HEART
September 9, 2015

The Damage Sugary Drinks Do To Kids’ Hearts

Soda and sports drinks can raise blood fats to dangerous levels. Cutting out just one a week makes a big difference.

Kids in the United States consume more than 10 percent of their daily calories from soft drinks, sports drinks, fruity punches, and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). These liquid calories play a big role in the obesity epidemic among children.

Obesity is only one of sugar-sweetened beverages' unhealthy effects, however. SSBs are putting kids at risk for heart disease from a very early age, a new study has found.

Consumption of sugary beverages often goes hand in hand with not eating fruits and vegetables and not being physically active....Allowing these behaviors can set children up for a lifetime of obesity and chronic disease.

Children who drank more SSBs had higher levels of triglycerides in their blood. Higher triglyceride levels are associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular problems.

Researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University looked at sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among a racially and ethnically diverse group of school children in Boston. The goal was to understand the relationship between levels of lipids or fats in the blood and SSB consumption. They also wanted to see what sorts of things could help improve diet quality and reduce disease risk.

They asked children to reduce the number of SSBs they consumed by at least one serving a week over 12 months. Children who were able to reduce their consumption saw their HDL-C, the good cholesterol, go up — a good thing for heart health.

Past research has linked sugary beverages to increased cardiometabolic risk in adults, but there has been little research on their effect in children. In this first study of the effect of SSBs on lipid levels in children, over 600 children between the ages of 8 and 15 self-reported their intake of SSBs, and fasting blood lipids were collected by researchers.

About 85 percent of the children and teens said they had consumed a SSB during the past week. Nearly 20 percent of the kids had one or more SSB a day. That comes to roughly seven or more 12-ounce servings a week — about a cup of sugar and nearly 800 empty calories.

Older kids and those from lower socioeconomic status were the biggest consumers of sugary beverages, and they had higher triglyceride levels. Even worse, however, was that those who drank the most SSBs took in more calories, ate fewer fruits and vegetables, and led a more sedentary lifestyle.

“[N]ot only are most SSBs high in sugar and devoid of nutritional value, but they are displacing other foods and beverages that offer high nutritional quality, [and] which are critical for children's growth and development,” senior author Jennifer Sacheck said in a statement. This makes the potential harmful health effects of SSBs that much worse, she added.

For parents, the findings show what a difference reducing the intake of sugary beverages can make to children and teens, and how important it is to teach children about all aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

The study found that the consumption of sugary beverages often goes hand in hand with not eating fruits and vegetables and not being physically active. Parents and caregivers need to take notice: Allowing these behaviors can set children up for a lifetime of obesity and chronic disease.

The study is published in The Journal of Nutrition.

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