Fruit juice doubles the risk of obesity

Primary school children who regularly consume juice and other fruit drinks are about twice as likely to be overweight or obese.

And the more juice children drink, the more likely they will be too fat, a Victorian study shows.

Conducted by researchers at Deakin University, the study shows that juice and other fruit drinks, including cordial, are a bigger problem than soft drink in childhood obesity.

A one-day snapshot showed that about 75 per cent of children drink at least one glass of juice and 25 per cent drink more than three glasses, while only 16 per cent consume soft drink.

“Soft drinks aren’t really the issue in primary school children – it’s fruit juice and drinks,” study author Andrea Sanigorski said. “For kids up to about 12 years of age, parents may limit soft drinks but they may not be aware that fruit juice and drinks can be bad for their health as well.”

The results are based on a survey of the diet of almost 2200 Victorian children.

Parents were asked what their children usually ate and drank, and what they had consumed the previous day.

The study found no link between weight and consumption of fast foods and packaged snacks. However, the link to fruit drinks, which contain some nutrients and vitamins, but are high in sugars, was stark.

Compared to the children who had not had any juice or fruit drinks the previous day, those who had two or three serves were 1.7 times more likely to be overweight or obese. Those who had more than four glasses were 2.1 times more likely to be too fat.

“It doesn’t fill you up, you drink it often between meals and it just adds sugar to your diet. You have to question why children need it,” Dr Sanigorski said. “But they are marketed as drinks for kids – I don’t blame the parents.”

Dr Suzy Honisett, manager of the Victorian Government’s child health program, Kids Go For Your Life, said many parents and carers wrongly believed juice and fruit drinks were a healthy alternative to soft drinks.

“We are certainly aware of the issues around soft drinks and their role in childhood overweight and obesity, but fruit juice has slipped under the radar,” she said.

“It is easy to believe that fruit juice is natural, healthy and full of vitamins (but) it contains concentrated sugars.”

Concern is also growing over the impact of sugary drinks on children’s teeth.

Fiona Preston, the health promotion manager at Dental Health Services Victoria, said reports were increasing of preschool children having their baby teeth removed because of decay, caused largely by sweet drinks including fruit juice.

“Fruit juice, fruit drinks and cordials are all as bad as each other because they all have high concentrations of sugar in them – whether it’s natural or artificial it’s still sugar. Particularly with young children, we suggest that they should only be drinking water or milk,” she said.



Story by Chantal Rumble, from The Age March 20th 2007.