Fizzy drinks make children as young as five violent, withdrawn and distracted, research suggests.
A study found that boys and girls who had four soft drinks a day were more than twice as likely to get into fights, destroy others’ possessions and physically attack people, compared with those who drank other beverages.
The sugar-laden drinks were linked with moodiness and difficulty in concentrating. The girls were as bad as the boys and the more soft drinks a child had, the worse their behaviour.
Although the potential dangers of the popular drinks have been much researched, this study is one of the first to look at such young children.
The US researchers said that limiting the number of colas, lemonades and other soft drinks given to a child – or even banning them all together – may improve behaviour.
The team from Columbia University in New York asked mothers of five-year-olds how often their children had fizzy drinks.
The women also filled in a questionnaire about how their child had behaved in the previous two months.
Almost half of the 3,000 boys and girls had at least one soft drink a day. One in 25 had four or more, the Journal of Pediatrics reports.
The children studied were part of a larger project involving ‘fragile families’ – families deemed to be at greater risk of break-up and poverty than normal.
However, the link with aggression was ‘strong and consistent’, even when factors such as the number of sweets eaten, socio-economic status, domestic violence and the mother’s mental health were taken into account.
Researcher Shakira Suglia said that she was not able to prove that the soft drinks were making the children violent.
For instance, it is possible that health problems that make children aggressive or moody could also create cravings for sugary drinks.
However, she said that cutting down on consumption, or stopping it all together, may improve behaviour.
If soft drinks are to blame, the problem could lie in their sugar content. A can of Coca-Cola contains almost nine teaspoons of sugar.
Caffeine, found in many soft drinks, may also affect children’s behaviour.
The soft drinks enjoyed by millions of Britons every day have been linked to a host of health problems, including heart attacks, diabetes, weight gain, brittle bones, pancreatic and prostate cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis.
The health and food campaign group Sustain wants a sugary drinks tax to be brought in and the proceeds ploughed back into children’s health.
The campaign’s director Charlie Powell said: ‘This study adds to the overwhelming body of evidence that sugary drinks damage children’s health and well-being by contributing to dental diseases, obesity and bad behaviour.’
Sarah Schenker, of the British Dietetic Association, said that soft drinks are nutritionally very poor and drinking them at the age of five could put a child on slippery slope towards a lifetime of fast and processed foods.
Dr Schenker, whose own children have never had a fizzy drink, recommends children are given milk or water. Fruit juice can also be drunk but in small amounts.
The food industry stressed that the study had not proved the soft drinks were the cause of children’s problems and that a bad diet or lack of exercise could be to blame.
Gavin Partington, the British Soft Drinks Association’s director-general, said: ‘Parents should be careful to make sure that their children have a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity.’
Earlier this summer, obesity experts accused the food industry of devising a ‘master plan’ to fool people – and governments – into believing sugar-laden fizzy drinks are healthier than they are.
The European Congress on Obesity heard evidence that industry-funded studies were more likely to conclude that soft drinks did not have a major role in obesity – even though separate analysis of similar data found the opposite.
source: Dailymail UK