Soft drink consumption linked to aggressive behavior
by Alexandra Branscombe
Categories: Healthy Living, People, Science.

Whether you call it “soda,” “pop,” or “coke,” a soft drink by any other name would still taste as sweet- and still cause the same amount of health problems. Soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and now scientists have found it’s linked to violent behavior in children.

In the very first study to look at the effects of soft drink consumption on young children, researchers found that among 5 year olds, there was a direct link between drinking soda and negative behavior. Increased aggression, withdrawal, and difficulty paying attention were behaviors found among children who drank higher amounts of soda than those who drank fewer or none.

Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, University of Vermont, and Harvard School of Public Health assessed nearly 3,000 5-year-old children from 20 large U.S. cities. Enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, mothers reported their child’s soda intake and a completed behavior checklist over two months.

Of the 3,000 in the study, 43 percent drank at least one serving of soda per day, and 4 percent consumed 4 or more servings per day. The study found that children’s aggressive behaviors and attention problems increased with higher levels of soda consumption. Aggressive behavior included getting into fights, physically attacking others, and destroying others’ belongings.

In the study, scientists recognized that additional factors could influence behavior–such as children’s diets, habits (excessive TV watching), or maternal depression. Adjusting for these and other factors into the study, scientists still “found that the child’s aggressive behavior score increased with every increase in soft drinks servings per day,” said Shakira Suglia, the principal investigator of the study.

The study pointed out that any of the highly processed contents of soda, including high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, and caffeine, might affect behavior. However, as this is the first study of its kind, researchers are still uncertain which of these ingredients have the most impact.

Earlier this year, a similar study found that adults who drank four or more cans of soda or fruit punch per day were more likely to develop depression than those who drank no sweetened beverages.

Americans buy and consume more soft drinks than any other country in the world. This map visually compares the amount of soda consumed per person in 80 countries in the year 2011: the U.S. is ranked in first place at a 170 liters per person.

Photo credit: Shutterstock 

About Alexandra Branscombe

Alexandra Branscombe was born and raised on a small farm in along the Mississipi River, where she first developed her fascination for nature and animals. Alexandra’s passions lie in all things related to health, biology, ecology, and sustainable energy. Her life goals are to show people wonderful world of science and discovery while supporting a sustainable, cruelty-free lifestyle. When she isn't writing, Alexandra can be found hiking, cooking, spinning to Latin music, or quoting Arrested Development. Follow Alexandra on twitter at @alibranscombe.

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  • MaureenABA

    This
    study is more sensationalism than science. It is a leap to suggest
    that drinking soda causes these or any other behavioral issue. The body of
    available science does not support this conclusion. The authors themselves note
    that their research ‘is not able to identify the nature of the association
    between soft drinks and problem behaviors.’
    And importantly, our member companies do not promote or market the
    consumption of soft drinks to children in the age group examined in this study.- Maureen at American Beverage Association

  • Lila

    ::eyeroll:: Typical corporate line from typical corporate talking heads. “When in doubt, cast a shadow on the science, not on the questions being asked (and answered).”

    I’d like to know if this was regular or diet soda, though. I’ve seen several studies with Aspartame/Neotame/Nutrasweet/etc. that had shockingly similar results (with the control group of regular soda consumption) having an effect on weight and sugar levels, but not the behavioural changes they saw with the sweeteners.

    (Also, a last sidenote to Miss Maureen the Talking Marketeer Head: You don’t market OVERTLY or DIRECTLY to five year olds? Sure. Keep telling yourself that. That’s why every kids’ meal comes with a soda, I’m sure. Just because you don’t have cartoon characters telling kids that soda is good for them doesn’t mean you’re not promoting the consumption. Don’t even go there.)