by Maia Appleby
We want to provide nutritious things for our kids to eat and drink, but sodas are one area where we’re losing the war. Kids are guzzling soda pop at three times the rate they were 30 years ago, and the average teenager drinks two cans of it a day, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Teens are drinking twice as much soda as milk. And the combination of caffeine and sugar in these drinks can create problems for kids that can last a lifetime.
Caffeine content is high
Caffeine is a drug both widely accepted and poorly regulated in the United States. Some of the soft drinks on the market, increasingly targeted at kids, contain large amounts of caffeine. The popular energy drinks aimed at teens, such as Rockstar and Monster, are pumped up with 160-300 milligrams per serving. Even drinks you wouldn’t suspect contain caffeine, such as Barq’s root beer and certain sports drinks. Diet sodas favored by many girls have more caffeine than the non-diet versions. Check out this chart from CSPI.
Caffeine’s effect on bones and jitteriness
High doses of caffeine can cause children to become fidgety, nervous, anxious, or aggressive. National Institute of Mental Health researcher Judith Rapoport found that a third of the soda-drinking children she studied were actually restless enough to be misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD).
Caffeine also robs the bones of calcium and magnesium. Girls who drink soda are setting themselves up for osteoporosis in later years, and possibly even broken bones today. Since teenagers are increasingly replacing milk with soda, they’re further depriving their bodies of important nutrients.
Caffeine is also addictive. Children who regularly consume caffeinated beverages experience withdrawal symptoms (including mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and lethargy) when they switch to caffeine-free beverages. A 1998 University of Minnesota study found a noticeable decline in such children’s performances and attention spans for up to a week after quitting.
In the United States, it’s difficult to know how much caffeine your child is getting. Currently, the FDA only requires that caffeine be listed as an ingredient; the amount doesn’t have to be disclosed, and usually isn’t. The CSPI and others have asked the Food and Drug Administration to change that, but so far the FDA has failed to act on that request.
Excess sugar and dental problems
Then, there’s the sugar. Alarmingly, each can of soda contains more than nine teaspoons of sugar, each of which in turn represents 16 empty calories. So if a child were to drink three cans of pop a day, (s)he’d be consuming 450 calories of sugar. In other words, almost a quarter of his or her total daily caloric intake would contain no nutrients.
Apart from the nutritional problems, there are the dental ones. According to a recent Birmingham University (England) research study, there’s a “strong link between dental erosion and the consumption of soft drinks and sports drinks.”
Given how many schools are selling out to Big Soda by signing exclusive deals to sell only Coke or Pepsi in exchange for money, parents can expect their kids’ soft drink consumption to keep going up unless they act soon.