- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Sweet drinks — whether sodas with sugar or all-natural apple juice — seem to raise the risk of pudgy preschoolers getting fatter, research suggests.

The findings might come as a surprise to parents who pride themselves on seeking out fruit drinks with no added sugar.

“Juice is definitely a part of this,” said lead researcher Jean Welsh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although fruit juice does have vitamins, nutritionists say, it is inferior to fresh fruit. The new U.S. dietary guidelines, for example, urge consumers away from juice, suggesting they eat whole fruit instead.

The bottom line, though, is that “children need very few calories in their day,” Miss Welsh said. “Sweet drinks are a source of added sugar in the diet.”

She said preschoolers were better off snacking on fruit or drinking water or milk.

Miss Welsh’s research, published in the February issue of Pediatrics, found that for 3- and 4-year-olds already on the heavy side, drinking something sweet once or twice a day doubled their risk of becoming seriously overweight a year later.

The sweet drinks seemed to have little effect, however, on children of normal weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting preschoolers to 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day. Some parents and schools are paying attention.

One Chicago Head Start program banned juice last year as part of an anti-obesity effort after finding that one out of five of its students was obese.

Monica Dillion, community health nurse for the Howard Area Family Center, said the preschool also added more fruits and vegetables to meals and more exercise to the daily schedule. The preschool has never served soft drinks.

The juice ban drew no complaints, she said. “The kids didn’t notice at all.”

The academy study followed 10,904 Missouri children in a nutrition program for low-income families. The researchers compared the children’s heights and weights approximately one year apart.

Sweet drinks are high in calories and low in fiber. Nutritionists think that calorie-dense, low-fiber foods may lead to overeating because those foods are consumed quickly but are less filling than foods higher in fiber.

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