Are sugary drinks to blame for the rise of metabolic syndrome in children? It’s common knowledge to not let your children snack on candy all day, but many parents forget to consider that the most common culprit of hidden sugar is those sugary drinks.
Despite our best efforts, childhood obesity rates continue to rise due to lack of physical activity and poor nutrition. Obesity usually brings on a host of corresponding health-related problems, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The onset of these two conditions among children has increased significantly over the last two decades and sugar-loaded drinks such as sodas, sports drinks and fruit-flavored beverages* may be largely to blame.
The Risks of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome among children is a global health concern that will likely persist into adulthood if neglected. Specifically, metabolic syndrome is the presence of a cluster of risk factors, such as:
- insulin resistance (body’s inability to regulate blood sugar)
- high blood pressure
- low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (also known as the “good” cholesterol)
- increased triglycerides (free fatty acids in the blood).
The presence of metabolic syndrome greatly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease. While genetics may be partially to blame, often times the problem stems from environmental and lifestyle factors.
The Impact of Sugary Drinks and Fitness
In a study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers examined lifestyle factors such as the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and physical activity levels to see how it affected the risk of metabolic syndrome in adolescents.
The results showed that increased intake of sugary drinks clearly had a negative impact, including:
- ↑ increased insulin resistance (indicating that the body is having trouble regulating blood sugar)
- ↑ increased systolic blood pressure (top number of the blood pressure reading)
- ↑ increased waist circumference
- ↑ increased body mass index (BMI)
- ↓ reduced “good” HDL cholesterol
Alternatively, higher levels of physical activity clearly lead to overall improvements, such as:
- ↓ increased insulin resistance
- ↓ increased LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, aka “bad” cholesterol)
- ↓ reduced triglycerides (free fatty acids in the blood)
- ↑ increased “good” HDL cholesterol
The positive benefits were even more profound when high physical activity levels were combined with a reduced intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. The findings clearly indicate that to prevent metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents, we must increase their physical activity levels while reducing their sugar consumption.
What Can We Do?
The study is just another stone in the pillar of truth about childhood obesity. If we want our children to be healthy, we have to make sure they get enough physical activity and follow a healthy diet. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. We must also limit their intake of sugar-loaded drinks while making sure they get enough water to stay hydrated. Helping kids get active and get healthy is the key to reducing metabolic syndrome so they can live Well. Into the Future.
*100% fruit juice is not considered a sugar-sweetened beverage because it does not contain added sugar and is recognized by the American Dietary Guidelines and the American Academy of Pediatrics as a healthy alternative source of fruit. However, servings should be limited to 4 to 6 ounces per day for young children and 8 to 12 ounces per day for children 7 and up.
Bremer, A.A., Auinger, P., & Byrd, R.S., (2009). Relationship between insulin-resistance-associated metabolic parameters and anthropometric measurement with sugar-sweetened beverage intake and physical activity levels in US adolescents. JAMA: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 163(4), 328 – 335.