Sugary Drinks a Source of Excess Calories for Children

~ November 2001 No.137 ~

In North America and other industrialized countries, obesity has become a major heath concern. Our sedentary lifestyle is a major factor contributing to obesity, but diet is also a big factor. It has been estimated that close to 25 % of US children are overweight, while some 11% are obese. Weight gain in its simplest terms is very easy to understand: if the amount of calories consumed is greater than the amount of calories used, then the excess is stored as fat. Those looking to lose weight should slowly increase their activity level and at the same time slowly cut down on the number of calories they consume.

A most disturbing observation is that more and more young children are being found to be obese. Is diet a cause? Sugar sweetened soft drinks or liquid candy as it is referred to, has been targeted as a major source of calories in children. About two-thirds of US children consume soft drinks each day. Each can contains about 50g of sugar. The data in Table 1 shows how much soft drink consumption has grown over the last 20 years, and how soft drinks now account for about 10% of calories consumed by children.

Consumption of non-diet soft drinks by 12- to 19-year-olds (ounces per day) and percent of caloric intakes (all figures include non-drinkers).
YearOunces per dayPercent of calories


A group of Boston researchers has reported that sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption can be directly related to obesity. They followed 548 children (average age 12 years old) for two years and found that during that time the consumption of soft drinks increased significantly from 1.22 servings/day to 1.44 servings/day. Over the same period the number of obese children in the study increased from 28% to 37%. Obesity was calculated using the body mass index (BMI), a simple calculation using only body weight and body height. The results were similar for children who were obese when the study started and for those who were not obese when the study started.

The researchers concluded that the risk of becoming obese increased by 60% for each additional can of soft drink consumed per day. Drinking diet soft drinks was shown to reduce the incidence of obesity.

  1. Reference
    • Lancet, 357:490-1 Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. 2001. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis.3


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Last modified

September 13 2015