Kids consume sugary drinks because they're available, affordable

October 1, 2013

Although overweight/obese Latino adolescents and their parents generally recognize that sugar-sweetened beverages are not healthy, the teenagers still consume these drinks for a variety of reasons, mostly because they are available at home, a new study shows.

 

Although overweight/obese Latino adolescents and their parents generally recognize that sugar-sweetened beverages are not healthy, the teenagers still consume these drinks for a variety of reasons, mostly because they are available at home, a new study shows.

Investigators interviewed 55 Latino parents and their overweight or obese children (aged from 10 to 18 years) about what beverages the children regularly drink, what they thought about the healthy versus unhealthy nature of the drinks, and why the teenagers made the choices they did. The children consumed sugar-sweetened beverages regularly-soda; sports, energy, and juice drinks; and culturally specific drinks-and lived in homes where such drinks were available. They also regularly consumed water.

Almost all parents and children considered soda unhealthy, with parents believing diet soda was at least as unhealthy as regular soda, citing the additives or chemicals it contains. About half of parents and youngsters thought that juice drinks were unhealthy because of too much sugar. The few adult and teenaged participants who thought that sports drinks were unhealthy and the half of parents and some youngsters who cited energy drinks as unhealthy also indicated that “too much sugar” was the reason. Nonetheless, half of parents prepared sugar-containing drinks associated with their Latino culture at home and considered these beverages healthy because of their high fruit content.

Both parents and youngsters recognized the health value of drinking water, but most parents and about half the children thought that tap water was unclean or unhealthy. (The study was conducted in the Los Angeles area, where tap water is considered safe.) Most parents, therefore, bought filtered or bottled water for home use. When asked why their children chose to drink water, a few mentioned that a nutritionist or doctor had advised it.

In addition to sugar-sweetened beverages at home or parents acceding to children’s requests to buy them, the affordability of these drinks facilitated their consumption, the interviews showed. A lack of rules about drinking sugar-sweetened beverages or a failure to understand rules or the consequences of breaking them appeared to be barriers to reducing consumption of these drinks (Bogart LM, et al. Acad Pediatr. 2013;13[4]:348-355).

COMMENTARY  You never know what parents don’t know until you ask. In a 2007 study, investigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, found that 42% of Latino parents believed that the city tap water was unsafe to drink and never gave tap water to their children (Hobson WL, et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161[5]:457-461). These researchers found similar results in this group of parents of obese and overweight Latino children and adolescents. I wonder if parents would be less likely to spend money on less healthy options such as soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages if they believed that tap water was safe. Ask a few parents, especially Latino parents, in your practice what they think of the safety of tap water in your community. You may be surprised by what you hear. -Michael Burke, MD

 

MS FREEDMAN is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. DR BURKE, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. He is a contributing editor for Contemporary Pediatrics. They have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organization that may have an interest in any part of this article.

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