Researchers found those beverages such as soft drinks, sweet tea and
flavored milk add about 179 more calories to meals.
“Sugar-sweetened beverages are increasingly linked to health
problems such as diabetes,” said senior study author Brian Elbel of
the New York University School of Medicine.
“Any information we can find about why this high-risk group of kids
is purchasing these drinks is important,” he said. “We haven’t had a
great sense of who these kids are, especially at fast food
The research team analyzed nearly 500 receipts and surveys collected
in fast-food restaurants in New York City and in nearby Newark and
Jersey City, New Jersy during 2013 and 2014. They found that 60
percent of the drinks bought for children were sugar-sweetened, and
combination meals were more likely to include a sugary drink.
“It’s always tough to get data on kids that represents the real
world, and this was based on what kids are actually purchasing, not
some experimental setting,” Elbel told Reuters Health. “We were
surprised by the broad variety of purchase predictors we saw.”
In addition to ordering a combination meal, male children and those
above age 12 were more likely to get a sugar-sweetened beverage and
consume a higher number of calories and grams of sugar. Caregivers
and parents who had a high school degree or less, bought the meal
during dinner hours, and ate at the restaurant were also more likely
to purchase sugary drinks for their kids.
“We know that families frequent fast-food restaurants often, and
these places have highly caloric meals,” Elbel said. “A
preponderance of healthy food is not being purchased.”
About 17 percent of children under age 19 in the U.S. are classified
as obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A major
contributor to the recent growth in obesity has been increased
calories, the study authors write in the American Journal of Public
Health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children
limit sugar intake to 10 percent of total calories, or about 120-180
“We’re no longer fighting about whether children need to drink fewer
sugary drinks. That’s accepted,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of
the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of
Connecticut in Hartford, who was not involved with the study.
[to top of second column]
“The question now is finding the best way to do that,” she told
Reuters Health. “Based on this study, if parents substitute milk or
water for the sugary drink, that eliminates almost 200 calories
One limitation of the study is that the researchers didn’t account
for drink refills, and they couldn’t observe how much of each drink
was consumed, only what was purchased. In addition, the study only
surveyed walk-in customers, not drive-through customers, who make up
a significant portion of fast-food restaurant traffic across the
“The New York City context makes this a little less generalizable to
other areas,” Elbel said. The results also may not apply to fast
casual dining, sit-down restaurants or full-service restaurants.
The new study's findings support an ordinance passed in Stockton,
California, in June that decouples sugar-sweetened beverages from
combination meals, making water or milk the default choice for kids’
meals rather than soda. The “healthy-by-default” rule was passed
unanimously by the Stockton City Council, following on a similar
ordinance passed in Davis, California.
“We have to put the pressure on restaurants to see a change,”
Schwartz said. “If more consumers speak up, more restaurants will
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2eBfWZs American Journal of Public Health,
online September 15, 2016.
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.