Don’t Be Fooled: Soda Linked To Bad Behavior In Kids

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Contributor

Back when I was on staff at The Boston Globe, I edited a story that said sugar didn’t make kids hyper. I didn’t believe it then, and a new study confirms my doubts.

Interviews with mothers of 3,000 five-year-olds from urban areas found – stunningly – that 43% of the children drank at least one soda a day, and 4% downed four or more.

out of ideas/flickr

out of ideas/flickr

And surprise, surprise, the children who drank the most sodas also behaved the worst, according to their mothers’ reports. Soda drinkers were more aggressive than those who abstained, and more likely to have attention problems, according to researchers David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health, Sara Solnick of the University of Vermont, and Shakira Suglia of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The authors previously showed that adolescents were more aggressive toward others and more likely to hurt themselves the more soda they drank. The new study found pretty much the same among kindergartners:

“Those who drank soft drinks more frequently had higher scores for aggression and were more likely to destroy other people’s belongings, to get into fights and to physically attack people. Children who drank high levels of soda were more likely to exhibit withdrawn behavior and attention problems. These effects were present even after accounting for an array of socio-demographic factors and psychosocial stressors.”

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Harvard Study Links Soda And Youth Violence

(Russell Bernice via Wikimedia Commons)

Calling Mayor Bloomberg! There’s a hot new data point out of Harvard to help bolster your ban of Big Gulps!

Harvard Magazine does a very nice job here reporting a researcher’s unexpected finding that drinking soda is correlated to violent behavior in young people. It reports:

In a study of 1,878 students at Boston public high schools, heavy soda drinkers were much more prone to violent behavior than other teens.

That finding came about by accident. While seeking to document the incidence of violent behavior among the high-school students, professor of health policy David Hemenway, who directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at Harvard School of Public Health, agreed to incorporate unrelated (or so he thought) questions about nutrition at a colleague’s request.

Analyzing the survey, he found surprising correlations. Heavy consumers of nondiet soft drinks—students who had drunk five or more cans in the week preceding the survey—were more likely to have behaved violently toward peers (57 percent, versus 39 percent of respondents who drank less soda); to have behaved violently toward another child in their own families (42 percent, versus 27 percent); to have behaved violently in a dating relationship (26 percent, versus 16 percent); and to have carried a gun or a knife during the past year (40 percent, versus 27 percent). The strength of the effect was on par with the correlation (well known among researchers) between these behaviors and alcohol and tobacco use; in some cases, the correlation with soda was stronger.

Harvard Magazine commenters promptly attacked the findings, pointing out that correlation does not equal causation and that it’s highly likely that a third factor — say, poor parenting — explains both the violence and the soda-drinking. I found myself wanting to say: Lay off, guys. This is just an interesting finding and the researchers are by no means claiming that soda causes violence. They’re exploring the implications further, Harvard Magazine writes, including possible mechanisms:

If there is a cause-effect relationship, the researchers speculate that excess caffeine and sugar (along with the subsequent blood-sugar crash) may leave soda drinkers irritable and prone to aggression; or maybe those who drink soda in place of healthier food miss out on nutrients that promote a calmer demeanor. Continue reading

Sign Of The Times: Kids Asked To Consider Soda, Sugary-Drink Marketing

Essay contests for kids used to ask questions like, ‘Why Do You Love Your Country,’ or ‘Who Inspires You To Do Your Best?’

In a sign of the times, the latest contest now underway asks children to write an essay about the marketing of soda and other sugary drinks.

A group called Kick The Can, a project of the nonprofit California Center for Public Health Advocacy (with help from the Center for Science In the Public Interest, among others) just launched three related contests:

The first asks young people to consider whether ads affect their drink choices; the second calls for video entries that depict a “sugary drink pour out;” and the third, called “Soda Sucks” challenges kids to create their own advertisement that “speaks back to soda marketers.”

Sugary drinks are the crack cocaine of our era, Continue reading

NYC Health Department: ‘Don’t Super-Size Yourself’

Amputations? Linked to my soda size? Yes, you got my attention. (It may not jump out at you, but the man in the poster to the left is missing the lower half of his leg.)

The ever-innovative — and sometimes controversial — New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has just launched a new series of posters aimed at calling public attention to the insidious up-creep of portion sizes in recent years. The department writes:

“The portion sizes that are marketed are often much more than humans need,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley “We are warning people about the risks of super-size portions so they can make more informed choices about what they eat. Consuming too many calories can lead to weight gain, which greatly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. If New Yorkers cut their portions, they can cut their risk of these health problems.”

The New York Times reports here on the new poster campaign, and includes a beverage industry response:

But the American Beverage Association, which represents sellers of sodas in cans and bottles and at fountains, countered that the health department was oversimplifying the connection between serving sizes and obesity.

“Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the association. “But instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people choose products and sizes that are right for them and their families.”

A couple more posters, kindly provided by the NYC health department:

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NYT: ‘Save The Children’ Drops Soda Tax Work, Seeks Coke Donations

Hmmmm. The New York Times reports today that the advocacy group Save The Children had been leading anti-obesity efforts around the country to tax soft drinks — but now has stopped. And by the way, it is seeking a big grant from Coca-Cola, and has already received $5 million from PepsiCo.

How do you think Coke and Pepsi feel about soda taxes? Yep, they oppose them. The head of Save The Children, Carolyn Miles, told the Times there was no connection between soft-drink donations and the decision to stop the soda tax campaigns. Do you believe her?

Political signals are strong that Massachusetts will soon address the soda tax issue: A broad new health coalition led by The Boston Foundation and the New England Healthcare Institute, with legislative leaders among its members, says it aims to push to get the state sales tax exemption on candy and soda repealed. The Times story would seem to suggest that if any state children’s advocates turn strangely silent on the issue, it might be worth looking into who their funders are…