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Soda for kids: bad idea?
Q: What do you think about giving kids soda? My children are 3 and 5, and my wife wants to give them soda for dinner as a reward for being really good. (She also drinks a lot of diet cola because she’s trying to lose weight). Is this okay for their health?
Jeffrey Berkeley
A: Jeffrey, it’s good that you’re concerned about your children drinking soda. In fact, children’s consumption of soda in the United States has tripled over the past 20 years. As a result, many studies have found that drinking soda regularly has negative effects on children’s health:
  • Tooth decay: A 12-ounce soda has the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. The sugar and acidity of soda lead to higher rates of tooth decay.

  • Obesity: Just as soda is loaded with sugar, it is also loaded with extra calories. A 12-ounce soda typically has 150 calories. Children who drink soda regularly consume more calories each day and have higher rates of overweight and obesity.

  • Weaker bones: When children drink soda, it is often instead of milk. Milk is a major source of calcium, which children need to build strong bones and teeth. Children who drink soda regularly have been found to drink less milk, have a lower intake of calcium, weaker bones and more fractures.

  • Caffeine effects: Caffeine is an addictive, stimulant drug that is present in colas and many other sodas. Caffeine can make children nervous and irritable, and cause headaches and sleep problems.
It’s a nice idea to have a special treat at the end of a pleasant day. But a healthy treat would be better than an unhealthy one. Particularly if there is a family history of weight problems, it would be good to get your children into healthy eating patterns from the start. In fact, since children tend to follow the lead of their parents, it would be best for the whole family to get on a healthy eating and exercise plan. Instead of drinking soda every night at dinner, you and your wife can drink water and give your children milk. Save soda for special occasions only once in a while. For an alternative evening treat, try letting them choose what music to listen to and dance to; what video to watch after dinner; whether to go for a walk around the block, play at the park or go for a bicycle ride; or which book to read before bed.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician