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  • Soda and behavioral problems in children and high school students

    Published on August 19, 2014.

    Soda and Children

    A recent article in Harvard Magazine (Soda and Violence Elizabeth Gudrais November-December 2012) cited research that suggested soda may be linked to violence in young people. In a study of 1,878 students at Boston public high schools, heavy soda drinkers were much more prone to violent behavior than other teens.

    That finding came about by accident. While seeking to document the incidence of violent behavior among the high-school students, professor of health policy David Hemenway, who directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at Harvard School of Public Health, agreed to incorporate unrelated (or so he thought) questions about nutrition at a colleague’s request.

    Analyzing the survey, he found surprising correlations. Heavy consumers of nondiet soft drinks—students who had drunk five or more cans in the week preceding the survey—were more likely to have behaved violently toward peers (57 percent, versus 39 percent of respondents who drank less soda); to have behaved violently toward another child in their own families (42 percent, versus 27 percent); to have behaved violently in a dating relationship (26 percent, versus 16 percent); and to have carried a gun or a knife during the past year (40 percent, versus 27 percent). The strength of the effect was on par with the correlation (well known among researchers) between these behaviors and alcohol and tobacco use; in some cases, the correlation with soda was stronger.

    Even within the scientific community, people found these results very surprising, Hemenway reports: “When you think about the causes of violence, soft drinks are not on the map of variables that you tend to look at.”

    More research on Soda – The Journal of Pediatrics

    Although soft drink consumption is associated with aggression, depression, and suicidal thoughts in adolescents, the relationship had not been evaluated in younger children. A new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics finds that aggression, attention problems, and withdrawal behavior are all associated with soft drink consumption in young children.

    Shakira Suglia, ScD, and colleagues from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, University of Vermont, and Harvard School of Public Health assessed approximately 3,000 5-year-old children enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a prospective birth cohort that follows mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities. Mothers reported their child’s soft drink consumption and completed the Child Behavior Checklist based on their child’s behavior during the previous two months. The researchers found that 43% of the children consumed at least 1 serving of soft drinks per day, and 4% consumed 4 or more.

    Aggression, withdrawal, and attention problems were associated with soda consumption. Even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, maternal depression, intimate partner violence, and paternal incarceration, any soft drink consumption was associated with increased aggressive behavior. Children who drank 4 or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy things belonging to others, get into fights, and physically attack people. They also had increased attention problems and withdrawal behavior compared with those who did not consume soft drinks.

    According to Dr. Suglia, “We found that the child’s aggressive behavior score increased with every increase in soft drinks servings per day.” Although this study cannot identify the exact nature of the association between soft drink consumption and problem behaviors, limiting or eliminating a child’s soft drink consumption may reduce behavioral problems.

    Soft drinks, aggression and suicidal behavior in US high school students

    Consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been rising among teens, and recent research has identified potential links to violence, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior. Researchers examining the relationship between soft drink consumption and aggression, depression and suicidal behaviors among US adolescents found that higher soft drink consumption is associated with a range of undesirable behaviors: being in a physical fight, feeling sad or hopeless and having suicidal thoughts and actions. The research showed a ‘dose-response’ relationship, with the percentage engaged in aggression or suicidal behavior increasing steadily with greater quantities of soft drinks consumed.1

    Do you have a question about this article?  Email: magazinercenter@gmail.com

    1. Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. Soft drinks, aggression and suicidal behaviour in US high school students. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot. 2013 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]

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