Focusing on soft drinks is the next logical step in the war against pediatric obesity

According to a year-long study of 644 children aged between 7 and 11 in six primary schools in Christchurch, England – outlined this week on the website of the British Medical Journal – a one-year campaign to curb soft drink intake led to a decrease in the percentage of those children who were overweight or obese.

In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommended that soft drinks be eliminated from schools to help tackle the nation’s obesity epidemic. The new policy statement urges pediatricians to contact local superintendents and school board members and “emphasize the notion that every school in every district shares a responsibility for the nutritional health of its students.”

One member of the academy’s Pediatrics’ Task Force on Obesity believes these two related announcements further confirm the need to take on soft drinks as the next logical step in the war against pediatric obesity.

Dr. William Cochran – a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist for Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, where he is one of the principle doctors in the pediatric weight management clinic at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. – was one of the doctors who helped to announce a 2001 policy by the academy advising parents to give no fruit juice to infants younger than six months, and restrict juice for all children and adolescents. The Executive Committee Chairman of the Academy’s section of Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Cochran also is a member of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Task Force on Obesity (Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity).

The pediatricians’ policy called for elementary and high schools to avoid contracts with soft drink vendors, and that those with existing contracts should impose restrictions to avoid promoting over consumption by children. And that’s just what the doctor ordered, according to Cochran.

He reports that 20 percent of obese children are overweight, in part, because of increased caloric intake from beverages. He points out that a 12-ounce can of non-diet soda is 150 calories, while eight ounces of fruit juice is typically 120 calories – and for every excess 100 calories consumed a day, an individual will put on 10 pounds a year.

“Parents should be aware of numbers like these, since prevention is the essential element in treating pediatric obesity,” says Cochran. “Kids consume a large number of calories in beverages – like juices, sodas, and sports drinks. All of them have calories – lots of calories that they don’t need.”

Cochran recommends limiting a kids’ consumption of flavored beverages – promoting drinking water instead.

“Sodas and juice really increase their caloric intake. Juice is fine, but they don’t need to drink it all day long, or soft drink either,” he says. “The average male adolescent is now drinking between two to four sodas a day – and that’s too many.”

When treating pediatric obesity, Cochran recommends following a stepwise approach.

“In step one, try to limit TV and video games to a maximum of two hours per day and to eliminate eating in front of the TV. One can also try and limit caloric intake from beverages at this stage. In step two, try and promote family meals and some increase in physical exercise,” he says. “Step three would consist of nutrition education and initial implementation of a hypo caloric diet.”

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