Does Sugar in Soda Cause Kids to Get Fat?

By David B. Ryan
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Kids start drinking sodas early in life, and many children drink soft drinks daily. The North Carolina School Nutrition Action Committee (SNAC) reports that shoppers can find soft drinks in more places than milk, and for children that means drinking empty calories. Almost 56 percent of 8-year-olds drink soda daily, and one-third of teen boys drink three soft drinks daily, points out the SNAC. Soft drinks don't just add regular calories, sodas confuse your child's metabolism with empty sugar calories that quickly contribute to extra weight, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Sugary Sodas and Calories

A 20-ounce soda has 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar, depending on the soft drink and manufacturer, and that translates to approximately 240 calories. Most fast food restaurants serve larger drinks, and 64-ounce sodas give kids an extra 700 calories, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Sugary sodas don't give kids the same satisfaction from solid foods, so children eat the same number of daily calories from other foods. This results in a weight gain directly from the soft drink calories.

Overweight Kids and Soda

Kids rarely drink just one soft drink a day and the increasing size of sodas results in weight gain. A study by researchers at Boston's Children's Hospital found that for every 12-ounce drink consumed each day, kids increased the odds by 60 percent of becoming obese in the next 18 months. The Harvard School of Public Health reported approximately 91 percent of American children in 2008 drank soft drinks, with approximately 10 percent of the child's daily calories supplied by the sodas.

Diet Soda Substitutions

Soft drinks with artificial sweeteners appear to be a good alternative to sugar soda, but Susan E. Swithers, professor of psychological and behavioral neurosciences at Purdue University, encourages parents to limit diet drinks. Swithers warns that regular diets that include reduced- or zero-calorie soda can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and metabolic syndrome, a term used to describe the confusion the body has when drinking something sweet without any calories from sugar. Diet sodas also have high levels of salt to boost the flavor in the low-calorie drink and this helps children develop a dangerous taste for salt that increases risks for stroke later in life, found a University of Miami Miller School of Medicine study linking diet soda and salt to increased risk of stroke.

Better Alternatives

Zero-calorie water offers a healthier alternative to soda, and adding some fresh fruit such as lemon or orange slices to the water helps boost the flavor and the excitement factor for young kids. Milk gives your children calcium, 300 milligrams in each cup, and non- or low-fat have fewer calories compared with regular milk. Color the milk with a small dash of strawberry or chocolate power or syrup to add interest for little diners. The amount of calories in the extra flavoring adds only a few calories to the drink, according to KidsHealth.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.