Raising healthy eaters can be frustrating at times, but you may need to worry more about what is in their cups than what's on their plate. According to a study published in 2016 by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids are consuming more than the recommended daily limit of 10 percent of calories from added sugars, and soda, sports drinks, and other fruit-flavored beverages are most likely to blame.
With overconsumption of soda being linked to an increased risk for tooth decay, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) released a joint statement calling for a major overhaul to the public policies and marketing tactics that have made soda so alluring and readily available to kids.
POPSUGAR asked Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, LD, the dietitian behind @kids.eat.in.color, a popular Instagram account that shows parents how to get their kids excited about healthy foods, to weigh in on these suggested measures and give us a few expert tips that can help your kids develop a healthy relationship with sugar.
What Kind of Measures Are the AAP and AHA Suggesting Against Soda Consumption?
The AAP and AHA are suggesting that policy makers raise the price of soda, possibly through an excise tax in which a portion of the revenue would be allocated to reducing health and socioeconomic disparities and subsidizing healthier drink options. Similar tactics have been successfully implemented in other countries, and even in parts of the US. Berkeley, CA, for example, saw an almost 10 percent drop in sugary drink sales after implementing a tax on these beverages.
The organizations are also urging marketers to cut back on advertisements aimed at kids and adolescents, encouraging the consumption of healthy drinks (such as milk and water) in schools, hospitals, and federal nutrition assistance programs, and promoting easy access to credible nutrition information on food labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements for families.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Overconsumption of Sugary Drinks by Kids?
Anderson is all for these official measures. "I believe it is unethical to create a demand for these foods in children via marketing, and agree that it should be limited. Preliminary data on soda taxes suggests that the taxes are benefiting public health efforts and decreasing soda consumption." It is unclear at this point when these measures could go into effect, but there are plenty of things you can do right now in your own home to keep your kids' soda and juice consumption in check.
If your kids are already soda-crazed (we're not judging, we've all been there), Anderson suggested a few creative methods for helping them make the switch to healthier options like water and milk. "Water should be the primary drink in the home. If your family regularly consumes soda, you can start weaning down by setting a daily soda limit and slowing decreasing that limit day by day until your children don't expect to have soda every day." If your kids get bored with plain water, mix it up with flavored sparkling water, herbal iced teas, or homemade fruit-infused water. If your family drinks milk, Anderson recommended up to 16 ounces each day.
Should Kids Cut Soda Cold Turkey?
You can go the cold turkey route and cut soda out completely, but Anderson recommended having a conversation with your kids about why you are making this healthy change. She provided a couple of kid-friendly examples like, "Soda feeds the bugs between our teeth. We're going to drink more water so that we can keep our teeth strong," or "We just learned that [insert family member or friend] has diabetes. That means that her body has a hard time putting sugar in the right place. Soda has a lot of sugar in it. It's important for all of us to understand that in our family, our bodies are stronger when we drink water. We're going to experiment with all the different ways we can drink water."
Just as with adults, though, as soon as you tell kids they can't have something, they are more likely to get fixated on it. "It's more helpful to provide an environment that doesn't vilify low-nutrient foods like soda, and instead promotes high-nutrient foods. Reserve soda for parties or times when it is served outside of the home. When your kids are exposed to soda, you can let them have it without making a big deal about it. This removes the curiosity, but also maintains water as the primary beverage in the home."