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Sugary Drinks Help Children Get Fat

from Reuters Health News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The proof's in the calories: those sweet sodas, bottled teas and fruit drinks can make your children fat, U.S. researchers said on Friday.

Children who drank more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks a day gained significantly more weight over two months than children who drank less than 6 ounces a day, the team of nutritionists at Cornell University in New York found.

The soft drink industry has long argued that a lack of exercise and not the availability of drinks is responsible for the rise of obesity in the United States.

But the Cornell team's study of 30 children aged 6 to 12 found that on days when they drank sweetened drinks, they took in, on average, 244 more calories a day.

The children did not eat any less food to compensate for the extra calories in the sodas, lemonades and other drink treats, the researchers said.

Children who drank more than 16 ounces a day of sweetened beverages gained an average of 2.5 pounds, compared with a 0.7- to 1-pound gain in children who consumed on average 6 to 16 ounces of sweetened drinks a day, they found.

"These findings suggest that sweetened drinks may be a significant factor in the increase in obesity among children in the United States," said David Levitsky, a professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology who oversaw the study.

Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, Levitsky and Ph.D. candidate Gordana Mrdjenovic defined sweetened drinks as soda, fruit punch, bottled tea or drinks made from fruit-flavored powders, such as grape and lemonade.

They also found that children tended to pass up milk when they were offered a sweet drink, and that caregivers tended to offer either milk, or a sweet drink, but not both.

Children getting 12 ounces of more of soft drinks got 20 percent less phosphorus, 19 percent less protein and magnesium, 16 percent less calcium and 10 percent less vitamin A per day than recommended by the U.S. government.

The World Health organization estimates that there are 17.6 million overweight children under age 5, with 20 percent of children in European countries obese or overweight. Fifteen percent of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 are overweight.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit health interest group has lobbied for a tax on soft drinks, calling them "liquid candy."

"Soda pop is Americans' single biggest source of refined sugars, providing the average person with one-third of that sugar," the CSPI said in a statement.

"Twelve- to 19-year-old boys get 44 percent of their 34 teaspoons of sugar a day from soft drinks."

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