When I was younger, drinking soda was a treat. I was only allowed it when at parties or when out for dinner…and no refills. And the standard was a 12 ounce can, or a 10 ounce paper cup from the fast food joint. Diet sodas were not even an option until I was 18 years old!
That was over 25 years ago.
While we are no longer in the ‘olden days,’ there is virtue and value to the limits that were commonplace to the everyday diet so many years ago. Flash forward and look at how soda is accepted as a primary drink for children.
You can find it in baby bottles, sippy cups, lunch boxes, school vending machines, and stocked in many home refrigerators. And while marketers try harder to maintain sodas in schools, enlarge the portion sizes, and tempt consumption with child-targeted advertising campaigns, the anti-obesity movement scorns soda and its effects on the weight and health of children.
The research tells us that there is a link between drinking sweetened beverages and adiposity (body fat) in children, although this is not completely understood. In other words, drinking soda may encourage weight gain.
Soda is a source of added sugar
Added sugar is a source of calories. Each 12 ounce can of regular soda packs ~150 calories and 9 tsp. of sugar. That’s 150 calories of sugary sweetness–not nutrients like protein, vitamins, or minerals–just calories. Over time, drinking a can each day can be a significant source of extra calories and a major contributor to excess weight gain and childhood obesity.
Commonly available soda sizes that pack a wallop of extra calories:
20 oz soda: 250 calories: 17 tsp. sugar (yup, that’s a 1/3 cup of sugar!)
24 oz. soda: 300 calories: 20 tsp. sugar (1/3 c. sugar)
Big Gulp (40 ounce): ~500 calories: 34 tsp. sugar (yes, Gulp!, that’s about 3/4 cup sugar)
Imagine taking your sugar bowl out of the cabinet and swallowing a cup of sugar! Would you let your child do that?!
No, most parents would grab the sugar bowl, put it away, and scold their child for doing something so ludicrous. Yet, allowing children to consume regular soda, without limits, is not dissimilar.
What about diet sodas?
Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners to mimic the taste of the regular product, without the calories. While use of diet soda can be helpful in the process of reducing calorie intake, regular use of diet soda is not advised for children.
How much is too much?
If your child is drinking more than 3-4 cans per week, it is time to re-evaluate your drinks. Alter your approach:
- Change your perspective: Sodas are a treat!
- Don’t purchase and bring them into your home (remember, YOU are the gatekeeper who makes the decisions about what gets purchased, served, and stocked in your home).
- For the serious consumer, start with a switch to diet soda and wean down to 1 can per day. Aim to reduce your child’s drinking to 3-4 cans/week. Eventually, use soda (diet or regular) on an occasional basis.
- Use alternatives: Try water! Serve iced water, or flavor water with a splash of juice or a squeeze of lemon. Healthy options such as milk or 100% juice (in recommended amounts) can enhance your child’s overall nutrient intake and be a satisfying drink.
Eliminating or seriously reducing the amount of soda your child is consuming can have a major impact on their health and body weight. Remember, a child can experience significant weight gain in a year, just from the extra calories that a daily can can provide.
Try to take a realistic look at the amount your children and family are consuming. Try to find healthy alternatives and ways to cut back in your child’s diet.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: January 7, 2010
Updated on: May 8, 2019