Low-calorie and zero-calorie drinks are billed as healthier alternatives to sweetened beverages. But for some children, new research shows, there’s no calorie-saving benefit to the drinks.
Kids who drank reduced-calorie beverages consumed the same number of total calories as those who consumed sweetened beverages. The findings by George Washington University researchers were published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.
The young diet-soda drinkers also did not fare well when compared with those who drank water. On average, those who consumed diet soda took in 200 more calories a day than kids who drank water. They also took in more calories from added sugars in food and drink than their water-drinking counterparts.
To establish their findings, the research team tracked the eating and drinking habits of more than 7,000 U.S. children during a five-year period. They focused on the consumption of sugar-sweetened and low-calorie beverages.
The conclusions challenge the conventional wisdom that makes low-calorie beverages a part of most diets. In fact, they suggest that water should be the default beverage for children and teenagers.
Calorie counts in children have taken on more significance in recent years: More than one in three U.S. children are overweight or obese, which raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes and other weight-related conditions. The American Heart Association has cautioned against long-term consumption of low-calorie beverages among children.
So, what should parents do to cut back on low-calorie, sweetened drinks for their children? Experts suggest pouring a tall glass of water, and adding some fruit or a splash of 100 percent fruit juice.