Updated 01 October 2015

Pros and cons of juice for kids

If you stock your refrigerator with fruit juices, you may be setting your kids up for a battle with obesity.


That's the suggestion of a new study finding that overweight children consume 65 percent more of the calorie-laden juices than thinner kids.

"Parents think that because fruit juices are natural that they are a healthy drink, so they don't put a limit on how much their children consume," says study author Dr Sarita Dhuper, director of paediatric cardiology and the paediatric obesity clinic at the Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, USA.

Fruit juice - a major source of calories

In truth, however, Dhuper says fruit drinks are a major source of calories on their own. Moreover, she says, their high sugar content may increase a child's appetite for even greater amounts of food, thus further contributing to weight gain.

"Our study found that juice consumption is almost shocking. For some kids, there seems to be no limit to what they can drink in a given day," says Dhuper, who presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Paediatric Academic Societies in Seattle.

Paediatric nutritionist Pam Birkenfeld agrees with the finding.

"Parents tend to think that because fruit juice is fat-free and comes from nature, it's OK. But what they often don't realise is that it is a very concentrated source of calories that generally does not fill you up, just out," says Birkenfeld, a dietician at Nassau University Medical Center in New York.

Complicating matters further, Birkenfeld says some parents confuse fruit juice with fruit-flavored drinks - beverages that can be even higher in calories and offer even less in the way of vitamins or other nutrients.

"It's not uncommon to hear parents refer to Kool-Aid as fruit juice," Birkenfeld says.

Too much of a good thing

While both doctors agree there is room for some natural fruit juice in a child's diet, they say there can definitely be too much of a good thing.

"I think it's a matter of awareness. Parents just don't realise how calorie-laden fruit juices are and how much they contribute to the problem of childhood obesity, which is really reaching almost epidemic proportions," Dhuper says.

According to the American National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 21 percent to 23 percent of US children between the ages of six and 17 are overweight and nine percent to 13 percent are obese, and many doctors believe the problem is grossly under-diagnosed.

The recent study

The new study involved 98 obese children aged five to 18, mostly blacks from low-to-middle income inner city families. Both the children and their parents were interviewed and a detailed food history was documented, including an average daily consumption of fruit juices.

The food histories were then compared with those from 80 normal-weight children in the same age group from a similar ethnic and income background.

Both groups exceeded the juice intake guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which is 110 to 170 ml per day for children aged one to six and 220 to 250 ml daily for children aged seven to 18.

Children seem to have "no limits"

The obese children far exceeded the recommended limit, consuming an average of 900 ml per day, 65 percent more than normal-weight children, who drank an average of 550 ml per day.

"In some obese children, juice consumption went as high as 50 ounces (almost one and a half litres) per day. There were just no limits," says Dhuper, who is convinced the excess juice played a major role in the children's weight problems. And, she says, it likely plays a significant role in the growing paediatric obesity problem in the United States today.

The study calls for parents to dramatically limit their children's juice consumption to meet the AAP guidelines, and for paediatricians to incorporate information on the links between fruit juices and obesity in all well-child visits. - (HealthScout News)

Read more:
Obesity: complications in kids


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