U.S. Kids Drowning In Diet Drinks

Drinking Diet Soda

Story at-a-glance -

  • More kids than ever in the United States are downing diet drinks – approximately double the number that were drinking them a decade ago
  • A new study shows that 12.5 percent of children are now drinking artificially sweetened beverages
  • Diet sodas are actually worse for your health than regular soda, due to the artificial sweeteners they contain, and have been linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, addiction, and other health issues
  • To give your child the best start in life, and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example; teach your children about the risks of both sugar-sweetened and diet beverages, and give them options for healthy alternatives

By Dr. Mercola

Per capita soft drink consumption has increased nearly 500 percent over the past five decades,1 and children, unfortunately, are a major reason for this staggering increase.

Kids are introduced to soda at very young ages and consumption only increases as they get older.

An estimated 56 percent of 8-year-olds drink soda daily, and once the teenage years come, some kids drink at least three cans of soda each day.2

Regular soda is, of course, a significant source of sugar (mostly in the form of fructose), with each can containing about 10 teaspoons of sugar, but due to artificial sweeteners' health effects, diet sodas may have far more serious health effects.

Consumption of sugar-sweetened soda and other beverages has been linked to the rising obesity epidemic, along with other health issues, among kids.

Likely as a result, a campaign has begun to get kids to stop drinking so many sugar-sweetened beverages… unfortunately, rather than replacing them with water or other healthy beverages it appears many kids are simply chugging down diet sodas instead – an absolutely terrible choice for kids' health.

Diet Beverage Consumption Doubles Among U.S. Kids

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have found that more kids than ever in the United States are downing diet drinks – approximately double the number that were drinking them a decade ago. The study looked at data from a federal health survey, which ended with the year 2008 and showed that 12.5 percent of children were drinking artificially sweetened beverages.3

On the surface this may appear to be a positive switch if it means kids are consuming less sugar as a result, but diet sodas are actually worse for your health than regular soda, due to the artificial sweeteners they contain. As senior research of the study, Dr. Miriam Vos, noted:4

"We do want children to drink less sugar. But the challenge is that there are no studies that have looked at the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners in growing children."

Diet Drinks May Actually Make Kids Gain Weight

U.S. kids are having a hard time keeping their weight under control. And one of the glaring issues surrounding diet drinks is that the artificial sweeteners they contain are linked to weight gain. If kids are getting hooked on diet drinks (and I do mean hooked, as these substances are very addictive, which I'll explain shortly), it could set them up for a lifetime of weight struggles.

Take, for instance, a study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.5 After following 474 diet soda drinkers for nearly 10 years, they found that their waists grew 70 percent more than the waists of non-diet soda drinkers. Further, those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 500 percent greater increase in waist size!

As you may know, your waist size is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also one of the most powerful predictors of lean body mass and your risk of serious degenerative disease. Your waist size is a far more accurate predictor of your heart risks than your body mass index (BMI), so any habit that has the potential to increase your waist size by 500 percent more than someone who does not have that habit is one worth breaking. 

Worse still, no one knows what impact these substance will have on kids who start drinking them at young ages and continue on for decades throughout their lives.

Case in point, a second study by some of the same researchers also revealed that mice eating food laced with the artificial sweetener aspartame had higher blood sugar levels than mice eating food without it, which suggests it may increase your risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.6 One study even found drinking a diet soda daily may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by 67 percent.7

Furthermore, research by Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, who was also involved in the studies noted above, and her colleagues found that your risk of obesity increases by 41 percent for each can of diet soda you drink in a day!8

Diet Soda May Increase Your Risk of Having a Stroke

Also concerning, if you're considering letting your child drink diet drinks, is that researchers found people who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event, including a stroke.9 This significant association persisted even after controlling for other factors that could increase the risk, such as smoking, physical activity levels, alcohol consumption, diabetes, heart disease, dietary factors and more.

According to the authors:

"This study suggests that diet soda is not an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and may be associated with a greater risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, or vascular death than regular soda."

In other words, if you're letting your child consume diet drinks in lieu of sugary drinks, you aren't doing their health any favors. Instead, you're simply swapping the health risks of sugar for the health risks of artificial sweeteners, which include a significant increase in the risk of stroke.

Your Child May Have a Hard Time Giving Up Diet Drinks Once They Start

As I mentioned earlier, it's easy to become addicted to diet drinks, and experts note that you can become both psychologically and physically dependent on them.

One of the problems is that artificial sweeteners tend to trigger enhanced activity within your brain's pleasure centers, yet at the same time provide less actual satisfaction. This separation of the taste of sweetness from caloric content means that when you consume artificial sweeteners, your brain actually craves more of it because your body receives no satisfaction on a cellular level by the sugar imposter. This can actually contribute to overeating and weight gain as well.

In other words, as far as "sweetness satisfaction" in the human brain is concerned, your brain can tell the difference between a real sugar and an artificial one, even if your conscious mind cannot. So you continue to crave more and more sweetness, in the form of diet drinks, sugar or whatever sweet treats you can find. As stated in the journal Nursing:10

"Artificial sweeteners are 200 to 13,000 times as sweet as sugar, and this enhanced sweetness is mildly addictive. Sweet taste triggers the dopamine signal, the same pathway triggered by drugs of abuse such as cocaine. If artificially sweetened sodas increase cravings, a person may need more sweets to feel satisfied, leading to excessive calorie consumption and weight gain."

Beware of Diet Waters

The market has been flooded with "functional waters," fortified (supposedly) with everything from vitamins and minerals to electrolytes, oxygen, fiber, and even protein. Supermarket beverage aisles can entice you along a virtual sea of beverage choices – energy drinks, vitamin waters, fitness waters, and sports/electrolyte concoctions in every imaginable color and flavor.

Flashy labels, pretty colors, and seductive scents are not always harmless to your health – but they are incredibly alluring, especially to kids.

But if you take a closer look at the labels, you'll discover they're spiking these waters with a lot of unsavory ingredients, many capable of wreaking havoc on your metabolism, hormones, and other physiological processes. Many of these so-called "functional waters" contain one, two or more artificial sweeteners, even though the water may not be advertised as "diet" or "low-calorie." Some even contain sugar, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium (ace-K) or sucralose (Splenda).

The only way you can learn that the artificial sweeteners are there is if you read the tiny 4-point font on the label… so don't just assume that if your child is drinking a supposedly "healthy" flavored water that this is better than diet soda. Be sure to check the labels very carefully for harmful additives like artificial sweeteners.

Is Your Child a Soda or Diet-Soda Junkie?

If you or your children drink diet beverages or eat diet foods, I suggest you read through my book Sweet Deception. This book will explain how you've been deceived about artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose – for greed, for profits... and at the expense of your own, and your children's, health.

Complete avoidance of sweets, including diet drinks, is often necessary to break the addictive cycle if your child is already hooked. However, you can also try swapping their diet drink for a "natural soda" made from the herb stevia and carbonated water (my favorites are the liquid stevias that come in flavors like English Toffee and French Vanilla).

If your child is unable to resist the diet drinks, the emotional connection to cravings might be an important factor. One of the most profound methods I know of for diminishing the effects of food cravings is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is the psychological acupressure technique routinely used in my practice to help people reduce their cravings, and it works well for kids. Turbo tapping, in particular, is very useful for soda addiction.

Make no mistake, though – food advertisers are doing all they can to lure your child in, just as Big Tobacco did generations ago.

So you need to first educate yourself about proper nutrition and the dangers of junk food, diet foods and processed foods in order to change the food culture of your entire family. To give your child the best start at life, and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example. Children will simply not know which foods and drinks are healthy unless you, as a parent, teach it and role model it to them first.

My nutrition plan offers a step-by-step guide to feed your family right, and I encourage you to read through it now to learn how to make healthy eating decisions for you and your children. Each stage (beginner, intermediate and advanced) offers a separate section on beverages as well, which I suggest you share with your children to help them learn how to make healthier drink choices.

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