The PediaBlog has recognized the problems caused by eating and drinking empty calories, especially those in sugar-sweetened beverages. We’ve seen how added sugars, especially in sodas and fruit-flavored beverages, result in children with higher body mass indexes and obesity and tooth decay. We’ve discovered research that shows a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and a higher chance of girls having their first menstrual period at a younger age.  We’ve looked at programs, like the “5-2-1-0 Let’s Go!” campaign, where the “0” indicates “zero sugary drinks, more water and low-fat milk,” and the “Drink Up” initiative, which encourages parents to offer children water as the beverage of choice. Politicians have tried to ban sugary beverages, others have tried to tax them, and school districts have had varied success in preventing their sale in vending machines (despite some lame rules from the USDA which still allow lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas, and baked chips).

With an enthusiastic nod to deceptive advertising from beverage companies, a new study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity lays the blame of the problems caused by sugar-sweetened beverages right where they belong: with parents, who, Bruce Horovitz claims, aren’t getting the message:

Many parents believe that drinks with high amounts of added sugar — particularly fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavored water — are “healthy” options for kids, according to the report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on improving health and health care. Never mind that the most recent federal dietary guidelines recommended limiting added sugar to 10% of total calories.

“Although many parents know that soda is not good for children, many still believe that sugary drinks are healthy options,” says Jennifer Harris, who wrote the study and is director of marketing initiatives at Rudd Center. “The labeling and marketing for these products imply that they are nutritious, and these misperceptions may explain why so many parents buy them.”


Daniel P. Jones says parents are swayed by product labels that tout beverages as “real” or “natural,” lower in calories or sodium, and higher in vitamin C or antioxidants — claims often seen on bottles of flavored water, juice drinks, and sports drinks:

The study found that 96 percent of parents surveyed gave sugary drinks to their child in the month prior to the survey. Those who had given sugary drinks to their child provided them in an average of three different categories. Fruit drinks and regular soda were provided most often – by 77 percent and 62 percent of parents, respectively – followed by sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, and flavored water.

Among parents of children ages 2 to 5, 80 percent provided fruit drinks, such as Capri Sun or Sunny D. Forty percent provided regular soda.

Parents who reported purchasing a given category of sugary drinks were significantly more likely to rate that category as healthy, compared to parents who did not purchase any drinks from that category.

Nearly half of the parents surveyed rated flavored water as healthy, and more than a quarter considered fruit drinks and sports drinks to be healthy.



Ultimately, it’s parents who choose what is, and is not, permissible for their children to eat and drink — at least in their own homes. Attitudes about foods and beverages begin — and should end — at home. Parents set the tone: if you buy junk and eat junk, your kids will, too. If you drink only water and milk, eat real foods, and limit sugary foods and beverages (and other processed foods) to special occasions, your kids will, too.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, supporter of the study, recommends that parents do their homework:

Beverage companies should stop marketing sugary drinks and energy drinks to children and teens; policymakers can require stronger product labeling; and parents can ignore on-package marketing and check ingredient lists for added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and juice content.


Weight = calories ingested/calories burned.

Don’t let sugar, especially those in calorie-laden, sugar-sweetened beverages, throw that balance out of whack.

More Sugary Drink FACTS here.