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Sweet as! Sugar-filled soft drinks and why kids should avoid them

A satirical story about our children’s discovery of sweet and sugar-filled soft drinks…

A long, long, time ago, way before Instagram, babychinos and four-wheel drives, children lived a simpler, less privileged life. Things didn’t come easily. They had to ride their bikes or walk to school, sit behind hard wooden desks, use pen and paper to write essays and even eat home-made sandwiches for lunch. Sometimes even with soggy lettuce. There were no computers to play games on, so kids were forced to use their imaginations to come up with games that involved physical activity. You could see them outside – running around the playgrounds, skipping and jumping, sometimes even hopping on one leg!

It’s hard not to pass judgement on such activities, particularly by today’s standards. Looking back, it all seemed so harsh. When children got thirsty, they were forced to consume a clear liquid known as water. Unpackaged and fed only through cold, underground pipes, children were forced to find cups or glasses and collect the substance out of a brass tap.

Water was all kids knew. Consumption was common, with children drinking several glasses, morning and night. At school, when thirst struck, kids were forced to go to even greater lengths for hydration, taking themselves to the nearest water bubbler – a strange apparatus built specifically to supply H2O. There, young ones would bend their little pre-millennial necks over the bubbler and gulp back the clear, tasteless liquid.

Water drinking was considered a simple, uneventful activity that played out something like this: Thirsty. Drink water. No longer thirsty.

Drinking water seemed quite normal at the time. Fortunately, today we have the luxury of many more interesting options – and so easily available. Kids can consume any number of exciting beverages. Conveniently packed, in gorgeous brightly coloured bottles, cans and packs, children can choose from sparkling soft drinks in an array of exciting flavours, chocolate or flavoured milk, fruit flavoured juices (some with real fruit juice in them),  – and even organic fruit juices, jam-packed with organic sugars.

How on earth did we get to be so clever?

Since the 1970’s the advertising industry has hitched a ride on the burgeoning fast food industry, and before we knew it, exciting new soft drinks and flavoured milk were everywhere. Kids just love them – and parents discovered that soft drinks were a great way to both energise and placate their children.

These sugary drinks became a regular hit with everyone, with consumption by adults in the US increasing by 61% from 1977 to 1997. Between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, consumption doubled in children and adolescents.

And, the more popular sugary drinks became, the more children craved them.

Drinks have now become far more than just a means to appease thirst. Today’s soft drinks know how to multitask. Packed with sugars and calories, they can increase energy, raise insulin levels, create weight gain, develop tooth decay, and cost an awful lot more than tap water.

Soft drinks are an exceptional beverage. As US nutrition expert Caroline Apovian writes,

“A better mechanism for weight gain could not have developed… Liquid calories are relatively new addition to the human diet – perhaps the human safety circuit had not yet adapted to register the calories for what they are.”

Children and soda drinks - Sage Institute of Child CareIn the meantime, while our bodies try and register the full potential of these calories, we can store all this energy in our fat cells for safekeeping. Plus, as one can of soft drink may contain up to 50g (10 teaspoons) of sugar, drinking just one can a day, over the course of just one year, will enable an average adult to put on more than 7kg. For children, the sky’s the limit.

It’s incredible stuff. But it’s seriously harming our children.

Sugary drinks are extremely damaging to children, who are too young to know better. Adults, however, can’t afford not to. Here are some of the key problems with sugary drinks that not only cause immediate damage, but set up a lifetime of potential problems:

  • Tooth decay and erosion – sugary drinks such as soft drink, cordial and juice leave a lot of sugar in the mouth. Bacteria feed on sugar to cause plaque – a sticky substance that builds on your teeth and contain millions of bacteria. As the bacteria feed off the sugars, they produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel.
  • Changes in bowel habits – young children can have problems digesting large amounts of natural sugars, which can result in diarrhoea. This inhibits nutritional absorption, causing fatigue, a weakened immune system and slower growth.
  • Poor nutrition – natural, nutritious food becomes less appealing when kids have been drinking sugary beverages. Some feel less hungry and therefore don’t consume enough other good foods to meet nutritional requirements.
  • Obesity – as sugary drinks are high in carbohydrates, low in fibre, with little to no nutritional benefit, they easily lead to excess weight gain.
  • Bad habits and addiction – as nutritious foods become less appealing, the habit of choosing sugar laden, high fat, processed foods becomes ingrained. The body begins to crave the sugar rush, worsening the cycle.

Enormous progress has been made over the last two decades, making our lives better in a myriad of ways. The adoption of soft drinks as a regular beverage, however, has not been one of them. With the knowledge we now have, as adults it’s our responsibility to look after our children. So when it comes to soft drinks and other sugary liquids, let’s think before you (let little ones) drink.

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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