In the last decade, the number of children consuming diet soft drinks has doubled. In 1998, only 6% drank diet cola, but by 2008, the percentage rose to 12.5. For reference, about 25% of adults consume diet beverages. The data was published in this month’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that more kids are turning to diet drinks. The rates of childhood obesity in this country have skyrocketed in the last 30 years. Soft drinks, which are nothing more than liquid candy, have their share of the blame. One would expect parents to encourage their children to drink water and only water.
But when marketers go out of their way to start toddlers on 100% juice in cute colorful packages, you know it’s going to go downhill from there. Children have much more of a sweet tooth than adults, so getting them hooked on sugary drinks is almost inevitable in an aggressive junk food environment we are all a part of.
Once children start to feel the social pain of being overweight, they turn to the same easy solution that grown ups do – diet drinks. We’ve stated our position on diet drinks multiple times in the past – they are bad, bad, bad:
- Diet drinks confuse kids’ metabolisms – the body thinks it will be receiving caloric input because the mouth has tasted sweet. This causes the regulatory system that controls our hunger to get whacked out of sync.
- Kids that are used to sweet flavors (from artificial sweeteners and also caloric sweeteners) find it hard to enjoy natural sweet flavors from fruits. Why have a blueberry or strawberry anymore?
- Long term effects unknown – no studies have been conducted to ascertain the risk of artificial sweetener consumption by young, growing people. Rodent tests have shown carcinogenic effects. Do you want your child to be part of a big science experiment?
- People who drink diet beverages tend to be just as overweight as the rest of the population, if not heavier. While correlation does not imply causation, one thing is clear – diet soft drinks are not the panacea an overweight child needs to slim down.
Our advice to parents – the longer you can keep kids off of sugary drinks, the less they will crave them. And that means you won’t need to find substitutes like diet drinks.