He bites. He spews expletives at the bus driver. And last week he tried to shake down the neighbor’s sweet little bulldog. (In his defense, the dog walked around like he owned the place, right?)
Before you label your little boy an, ahem, ”problem child,” you might want to take your focus off his addiction to Halo for a minute, and point your well-manicured finger at the soda pop in your refrigerator.
While soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and a mouth full of cavities, Columbia University researchers are now reporting a correlation between sugar-infused soft drinks and an increase in aggressive behavioral health, withdrawal, and difficulty paying attention among tots as young as 5 years old.
The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, documented the habits of roughly 3,000 kids across 20 major cities in the U.S, from birth to five years old. Mothers were asked to report how many servings of pop their child consumed on an average day, before responding to a series of behavioral health questions. Before the findings were calculated, researchers adjusted for any external factors that could impact findings, such as parental styles (e.g. parents always be fightin’) and socio-demographic determinants (e.g. kids watch too much damn television).
While not groundbreaking, the results were a slap in the face for Big Gulp lovin’ households across America.
Children who consumed at least four servings of soda per day—the daily average for Americans—were twice as likely than kids who didn’t consume the sugary pop to display signs of aggressive and violent behavior toward other children, including verbal abuse, physical attacks, and stealing their earnings from the tooth fairy. (Okay, we might have been fabricated that last one, but chances are it happened.)
Now, we know what you are thinking: What about the delinquents who didn’t chug a whopping four cans of soda a day? They fared a little better. The kids who consumed as little as two sodas a day were also reported to be more socially withdrawn and likely to have trouble paying attention to instruction than kids who refrain from drinking soda.
Still, it seems the devil is in the dose. According to Shakira Suglia, the study author and associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, whether it’s one serving or a barfworthy three, the increase in soda consumption directly correlated with a rise in behavioral health problems. “It was significant for kids who consumed as few as one serving of soda per day,” said Suglia.
So what exactly is it about soda that makes our kids turn into mini hoodlums? According to the study’s authors, “Soft drinks are highly processed products containing carbonated water, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sodium benzoate, phosphoric or citric acid, and often caffeine, any of which might affect behavior.” We concur.
The American Beverage Association was quick to dismiss the findings, claiming that its member companies “do not promote or market the consumption of soft drinks” to kids in the examined age range. While that is admirable (bullshit), the fact is that kids are consuming more soda than ever before despite an incline in studies that expose the negative behavioral health effects.
What’s a pissed-off parent to do? Here are a few helpful tips:
Tip #1: Say No To Soda At Meals. While our best recommendation is to eliminate soda entirely, according to Belgium researchers, the best way to cut down is to not serve with meals. Other suggestions include not keeping soda in the house and not allowing your little ones to drink soda whenever the hell they want.
Tip #2: Swap It Out + Offer Rewards. If you are trying to wean your kids off of soda, a bribe never hurt anyone (did we just say that?!). Reward good behavior with a sweet but healthier alternative like coconut water, organic juices made from 100% real juice, or natural soda.
Tip #3: Be A Role Model. Use common sense, woman. Don’t expect your kids to cut down if you’re gulping down diet soda like it comes from the Earth.
Carly Harrill is a writer, blogger, healthy lifestyle advocate, and co-founder of Healthy Bitch Daily. Follow her on Twitter at @carlyharrill.