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Children and sugary drinks

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Popular beverages among children of all ages are “energy” drinks such as Monster Energy Drink® and Red Bull®. These typically consist of water, caffeine or guarana (stimulants) and significant amounts of sugar. Health Canada estimates about seven million of these sugary drinks are consumed every month in Canada and has recently required the drinks to carry a warning that they are not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Soft drinks also contain very high levels of phosphorus, but barely any calcium to maintain metabolic balance. In an attempt to retain a balanced, one-to-one ratio between calcium and magnesium, the body will excrete excess phosphorus by bonding it to calcium and eliminating it via the urinary system. Since most children are already lacking dietary calcium, the excess phosphorus leaches this important mineral from the skeleton, preventing the bones from developing the mass needed to prevent osteoporosis further down the road.

In a report published in the March 1, 2011 journal, Pediatrics, designed to review the effects, adverse consequences, and extent of energy drink consumption among children, adolescents and young adults, the research team concluded:

“…these drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioral disorders or those who take certain medications. Of the 5448 US caffeine overdoses reported in 2007, 46% occurred in those younger than 19 years.
Several countries and states have debated or restricted energy drink sales and advertising. Energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated. The known and unknown pharmacology of agents included in such drinks, combined with reports of toxicity, raises concern for potentially serious adverse effects in association with energy drink use.
Toxicity surveillance should be improved, and regulations of energy drink sales and consumption should be based on appropriate research.”

The typical 12oz soft drink contains anywhere from 8 to 10 teaspoons of sugar (32 to 40 grams). The American Heart Association recently released the following guidelines for daily sugar intake:

Adult women 5 teaspoons (20 grams)
Adult men 9 teaspoons (36 grams)
Children 3 teaspoons (12 grams)

This means that a child having just one soft drink daily is taking in more than twice the recommended sugar level in just that drink. Saying goodbye to soft drinks is not easy. The makers of these drinks understand this very well and make every attempt to fuel the addiction in their advertising. Aside from containing large amounts of caffeine or guarana—both addictive substances—the soft drink industry relies also on coldness, carbonation, and the pop of the can (with associated “fizz”) to stimulate the senses into further addiction to their products. As with any addiction, it is better to wean off the substance gradually, rather than cold turkey. This can be accomplished by substituting every other drink with a decaffeinated variety. Once your child is consuming only decaffeinated beverages, cold juices can be gradually substituted. The eventual goal is to switch to water, completely eliminating caffeine, carbonation and unneeded sugars.