On average, children are consuming over 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year. To put it in perspective, that’s enough to fill a bathtub.
Kids are consuming about 17 percent of their calories from added sugars -- well above the recommended amount -- nearly half of which come from drinks alone.
"For children, the biggest source of added sugars often is not what they eat, it's what they drink," said Natalie D. Muth, a pediatrician and the lead the author of a new policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) calling for a suite of public health measures to reduce kids’ consumption of sugary drinks. “I am concerned that these sweetened drinks pose real – and preventable - risks to our children's health."
Pediatricians warn that consuming too many sugar-laden beverages like sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and sodas can lead to tooth decay, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. And teens who drink more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars are more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels, including higher "bad" LDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and lower heart-protective HDL cholesterol, according to the AAP.
Beverage companies spend millions in marketing to adults and children --$866 million in 2013 – with most teens seeing at least one ad for a sugary drink every day, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Children from minority and low-income communities are disproportionately harmed by low-cost, easy access to sugary beverages.
The policy statement, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, includes proposed excise taxes, limits on marketing to children, and financial incentives for purchasing healthier beverages. The AAP and AHA call for a series of policies to reduce children's consumption of sugary drinks—including price increases—taking note of the lessons learned from decades of work on tobacco control efforts. The policy statement is the first time AAP has recommended taxes on sugary drinks.
"As a nation we have to say 'no' to the onslaught of marketing of sugary drinks to our children," said Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, professor emeritus of nutrition at University of Vermont and former Chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee. "We know what works to protect kids' health and it's time we put effective policies in place that bring down rates of sugary drink consumption just like we've done with tobacco."
Excise taxes on sugary drinks have successfully reduced consumption in cities including Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia, Penn. Cities have reinvested the revenue generated by these taxes into community programs to help low-income people buy healthy food, and subsidies to schools and child care centers to increase servings of fruits and vegetables.