With the hot summer months upon us, what liquids should children be drinking, and how much should they drink? Most of us hear a lot of talk about healthy eating, but what about healthy drinking? Studies suggest that increased consumption of sweetened sodas and sport drinks is helping fuel the obesity epidemic among children and teens.
"Most people would be really surprised if they knew how much sugar was in their favorite drink," says Tamara Sheffield, MD, spokesperson for Intermountain Healthcare's LiVe public service campaign. LiVe encourages children to have a healthy diet and be active.
"We've found that soft drinks provide a high amount of added sugar in the American diet," said Dr. Sheffield. "Since most beverages have been super-sized to 20 ounces or more, that's 15 to 20 teaspoons of sugar in the most popular soft drinks. What's even more alarming is that these are what we call empty calories. They don't provide the body with any nutrients, but they can lead to weight gain, which puts us at higher risk for health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes."
So, what should parents and kids be drinking with meals, and to quench their thirst in general? Dr. Sheffield votes for water first. "Water is a wonderful beverage," she says. "We should aim for drinking six to eight cups of water a day. It's a naturally 'high octane' option that not only quenches your thirst, it helps carry nutrients through your system. And, it's free."
Dr. Sheffield says that low fat or fat-free milk is a good choice, too, as it provides calcium along with important vitamins and minerals. "If you're going drink juice, be sure it's 100 percent juice and drink it in moderation. You can dilute the calories and sugar by cutting it with water. Or, better yet-eat a piece of fruit instead," she advises. Dr. Sheffield recommends that kids (with parental help) aim for less than 12 ounces per week of soda, sports drinks, lemonade, and other sweetened drinks. Juice should be limited to six ounces a day.
"There's the question of whether kids need extra beverages to avoid dehydration when they play sports, especially during the hot summer months," Sheffield says. "Basically, the average child athlete can and should get all the necessary nutrients and hydration by eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water before, during and after exercise."
Sheffield notes that sports drinks may help if your child participates in endurance sports that last longer than an hour, such as long-distance running and biking, or high-intensity games of soccer, basketball, or hockey. "But they're really not necessary for the casual athlete and can increase the risk of excess weight gain," she said. "And, they are definitely not for sedentary kids."
As for "energy" drinks, most of these drinks deliver as much caffeine as in one to three cups of coffee and a big dose of sugar-both of which can create a whole set of problems, says Sheffield. "Many also contain herbal supplements, but their safety and effectiveness has never been tested in children."
Parents and teens can find more expert advice on diet, activity and attitudes about weight management at the LiVe website at intermountainlive.org.