A new study suggests that high-sugar soft drinks pose a danger not only to the children who drink them – but to their friends, family members and classmates as well. In this large survey of Boston high school students, those who drank five or more sodas per week were far more likely to act violently toward peers, siblings, and people they were dating. They were also much more likely to carry weapons.
Drinking soda, even just one can a day, was as likely to be associated with a student being more violent as were underage drinking and smoking. The study found that the more soda the child drank, the more violent he was. This suggests that even moderate cutbacks in drinking soda could make a big difference.
But why would soda contribute to violence? The adrenal glands handle the body’s stress. Excess stress can exhaust the adrenal glands in adults and children. And for many children, high school is a very stressful experience! Adrenal exhaustion (which isn't detected by standard blood testing) results in episodic low blood sugar. To the brain, this is a form of suffocation that results in a combination of major sugar cravings and irritability when hungry – a craving I refer to as, "Feed me now or I'll kill you!" In response, kids eat sweets and drink sodas. Though the sugar might provide temporary relief for an hour or so, it also sets them on course for an emotional rollercoaster ride, driving their sugar levels back down and causing even more irritability. The heightened irritability can eventually lead to an increased risk of poor social function and irrational violence.
Sugar also damages your health by being an empty-calorie substitute for nutritional foods you might otherwise eat. This can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can also contribute to irritability and violence. Just as it is for adults, it's very important that children take a daily multivitamin.
The average American consumes 140 pounds of sugar each year via processed foods and sodas. Excess sugar in general and sodas in particular are major public health hazards. In adults, sugar plays a significant role in the skyrocketing epidemic of diabetes, heart attack, strokes, hypertension, anxiety and depression. Children have many years until heart disease and strokes could manifest – that's part of why kids feel immortal. And because of that, it’s more important to make them understand the immediate consequences of our national sugar addiction.
High soda intake is associated with a marked increase in physical harm to children, such as an increased susceptibility to bone fractures. Sugar also contributes to:
- Learning disorders and ADHD
- Behavioral disorders
- Stomach aches (a recent study showed that over half of the cases of severe unexplained abdominal pain in children turned out to be from sodas)
So what can we do?
A lot. And you should begin by not only addressing the sodas you drink but also fruit juices. Many people are unaware that fruit juices have the same amount of sugar per ounce as sodas do. They aren't a good substitute unless you first water them down.
Remove soda from your home. Take control of the situation by keeping a pitcher of whatever you choose for your children to drink available in the fridge. Vegetable juices are an option (just be sure they don’t have added sugar). Make your own lemonade with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lemon juice plus 3 1/2 cups of water. For more sweetness, add stevia, which is a natural and healthy sweetener. Caffeine-free herbal iced teas, and even homemade root beer, can be made the same way. Your goal over time is to slowly shift your children to drinking predominately water while saving these other stevia-sweetened drinks for once-a-day treats.
You could also substitute sodas with diluted fruit juices, aiming for a maximum of 4-8 ounces of whole juice per day. Over time, you should gradually water down the juice. Begin with a mix of six ounces of juice and two ounces of water. Every few weeks (as your children adjust and tolerate), substitute another ounce of water for an ounce of juice. Continue this until you reach a healthy, low-sugar mixture made with 1-2 parts juice per 8-9 parts water. You may not be aware, but most fruit drinks in your supermarket are similarly 90% added water with only 10% juice – but they add massive amounts of sugar to compensate.
One final thought: In general, kids like to be paid for a job well done, just like adults do. Having raised five children myself, I find that rewarding children for achieving a goal is a good motivator. Find something your child really wants, like more privileges or cell phone time, and offer it as a reward for achieving her goal of becoming soda-free. Invite your child to participate in setting the goals and rewards as though you’re creating a fun contest. In the end, the greatest prize will be your child’s good health.