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.
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