American Kids Consuming More Sugar-Free Drinks

By Amir Khan on August 18, 2012 12:28 PM EDT

Diet Soda
American kids are cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

American kids are cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks, according to a new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. More and more kids are switching to sugar-free drinks, researchers said, though what the long-term health implications are of the switch are still unknown.

In 1998, only 6 percent of children drank sugar-free beverages, researchers said, By 2008, that number was up to 12.5 percent.

"We do want children to drink less sugar," Dr. Miriam B. Vos, study author and researcher at Emory University, told NBC News. "But the challenge is that there are no studies that have looked at the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners in growing children."

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However, Vos stressed that she's not calling artificially-sweetened drinks dangerous, but said that studies have shown that the drinks cause weight gain in mice.

"We don't know if anything like that happens in children," she said.

 While it's unclear what effect the drinks may have, they do contain less calories, which could help curb American's expanding waistline.

More than 12.5 million American children ages 2 through 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the number of obese children has tripled since 1980. Health care costs related to childhood obesity totaled $3 billion in 2009, according to a study published in Nature.

In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the USDA introduced the "MyPlate" program, the current nutrition guide, which replaced the Food Pyramid on June 2, 2011 after 19 years. The MyPlate guide emphasizes fruits and vegetable, much like Michelle Obama's school lunch guidelines. Grains and proteins each make up a quarter. A glass of milk is off to the side, and desserts are no longer present.

"Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or to look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving," Michelle Obama said when unveiling the program last summer. "But we do have time to take a look at our kids' plates. And as long as they're eating proper portions, as long as half of their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside their lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, then we're good. It's as simple as that."

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