Added sugar is bad for kids. It can lead to cavities, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. That’s why it’s recommended that children get no more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar. The problem is that according to recent data, added sugar makes up 17% of the daily calories of the average child and teen. Almost half of that comes not from food, but from sugary drinks.
Pediatricians have long said that children and teens should avoid sugary beverages, including juices with added sugar and soda. Yet consumption has not gone down. Some of that has to do with habits, which can be notoriously hard to change, but some of it also has to do with the fact that these beverages are heavily marketed to youth. And they are very inexpensive, often less expensive than healthier choices.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have come out with a joint statement, “Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents,” published in the journal Pediatrics. In it, they lay out some public policy steps that could be taken to decrease consumption of sugary beverages — and help keep our youth healthier. These include:
- Raising the price of these beverages, such as with an excise tax. If they cost more people may be less likely to buy them, and the tax revenue could be used to fund health and health education programming.
- Federal and state governments should work to decrease the marketing of sugary drinks to adolescents and teens. We need to think about these drinks the same way we think about tobacco products. It’s wrong to market unhealthy and dangerous products to children.
- Water and milk should be the default choices on children’s menus at restaurants, at schools, and in vending machines that cater to children and youth. If it’s not available, they will drink less of it.
- Federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP should discourage the purchase of sugary drinks.
- Hospitals should set an example by not offering sugary drinks to patients and families.
- Accurate and credible nutrition information about these drinks should be made available, not just on nutrition labels but also on restaurant menus and in advertisements (like the health warnings that are in tobacco marketing). Not only do people need to know the dangers of what they are buying for their children, it needs to be harder for them to avoid knowing it.
Sometimes, we need to step in and protect our children. With nearly one in five of our 2-to-19-year-olds obese, and nearly another one in five overweight, we owe it to them to do everything we can.
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