Has little Jimmy been more rowdy on the playground lately? Don’t be so quick to point your finger at the television and video games. The problem might just stem from his beverage of choice. While soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and a mouth full of cavities, a study from researchers at Columbia University has found a link between sugar-infused soft drinks and an increase in aggressive behavioral health, among kids as young as 5 years old.
The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, documented the habits of roughly 3,000 kids from birth to 5 years old in 20 major cities in the U.S. Their mothers were then asked to answer a series of behavioral health questions and report how many servings of pop their child consumed on an average day. Adjustments were also made to account for any external factors that could impact findings, including parenting styles and other socio-demographic determinants, such as a child’s sleep schedule, stressful home situations, and excessive television watching.
While not surprising, the results are a wake-up call for parents.
The children who drank at least four servings of soda per day were twice as likely than kids who didn’t consume the sugary beverages to display signs of aggressive and violent behavior toward other children, including destroying things, verbal abuse, and physical attacks. The pop drinkers who consumed at least two soda servings a day were also more socially withdrawn and likely to have trouble paying attention to instruction than their soda-free counterparts.
But it seems the devil is in the dose. According to Shakira Suglia, the study author and assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, whether it’s one serving or three, the increase in soda consumption directly correlated with a rise in behavioral health problems. “It was significant for kids who consumed as few as one serving of soda per day,” said Suglia.
So what is it about soda that makes our kids go haywire? “Soft drinks are highly processed products containing carbonated water, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sodium benzoate, phosphoric or citric acid, and often caffeine, any of which might affect behavior” the authors conclude.
The study marks the first time the effects of sugary beverages have been linked to behavioral health shifts in children so young. Similar findings have been reported in studies chronicling adolescents; one of which found that teens consuming high amounts of soda were more likely to carry a weapon or exhibit dramatic behavioral health changes in mood, from depression to suicidal thoughts.
The American Beverage Association was quick to dismiss the findings, claiming that its member companies “do not promote or market the consumption of soft drinks” to kids in the examined age range. Regardless, the fact is that kids are consuming more soda than ever before despite an incline in studies that expose the negative behavioral health effects.
With health experts urging parents to limit their child’s soda consumption, here are a few tips and alternatives to consider:
Tip #1: No Soda At Meals.
According to Belgium researchers, the best way to cut down on soda consumption is to not serve it with meals. Other suggestions include not keeping soda in the house and not allowing your little ones to drink soda whenever they want.
Tip #2: Swap It Out + REWARD.
If you are trying to wean your kids off of soda, try rewarding them with a sweet but healthier alternative like coconut water, organic juices made from 100 percent real juice, or natural soda. Reward being the operative word here. Don’t allow a free-for-all in your home-treat your kids for good behavior. (Some natural soda alternatives to try are Birdie and Bill’s, IZZE Sparkling Juice, DRY Soda, Zevia, and Steaz.)
Tip #3: Be A Role Model.
Don’t expect your kids to cut down if you’re gulping down diet soda on a daily basis (check out this article to learn why diet sodas are oh-so-bad for you). Set a good example.
Image: Clemens v. Vogelsang