In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that tracked the beverage intake of girls over a 10 year period, researchers uncovered evidence that girls who regularly drink soda from a young age have poor diets by their teenage years, and are at risk for debilitating health problems later in life.
The study monitored the diets of 170 non-Hispanic white girls, with a focus on their beverage intake, beginning when they were 5 years of age until they reached 15 years of age. The researchers classified soda drinkers as the girls who, at the age of 5, drank soda at meal times, and non-soda drinkers as the girls who had no soda intake at the age of 5. The meals of each group were documented over a 10 year period and then analyzed.
The results? While over time both groups’ intake of soda increased, the group reported to have begun drinking soda at age 5 were found to have diets with less of the daily recommended values of vitamins and other key nutrients by their teenage years. Furthermore, as soda intake increased, milk consumption decreased, a trade-off that contributed to overall diets higher in added sugar and lower in bone-building nutrients like calcium, Vitamin D, phosphorous, magnesium and protein. Additionally, researchers noted that while there were no significant differences in the weight gain patterns of both groups, the parents of soda drinkers had a higher body mass index than parents of non soda-drinkers, supporting the notion that a parent’s poor diet influences the patterns of their children’s diets.
“We think that the patterns develop when they are younger. Some studies show children already drinking soda or carbonated beverages at age 2,” explained Laura Fiorito, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Child Obesity Research at Penn State. In similar research conducted by The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study, the diets of more than 2,000 teen girls–both black and white–were followed so as to uncover the relationship between beverage intake, body mass index, and nutrient intake. Like this newer study, the habitual consumption of soda was linked to a vitamin-poor diet and lower milk intake; however in this particular study a significant increase in weight gain among the soda drinking group was found as compared to the non soda drinkers.
Based on the existing research, it appears that diet quality and possibly weight status among girls is negatively impacted by establishing a soda drinking habit earlier in life. Beyond the implications these studies have for weight gain through adolescence and into adulthood, they raise the concern about soda’s influence on other health conditions, such as poor dental health, diabetes, and an increased risk for osteoporosis in later life, as low calcium intake during youth and young adulthood results in lower peak bone mass–a key risk factor for osteoporosis.