New Delhi, Aug. 16: Five-year-olds who consume high levels of carbonated soft drinks are also more likely to destroy things belonging to others, get into fights and exhibit attention problems, a new study has suggested.
The study by US researchers, described as the first to explore how soft drinks may influence behaviour in young children, has observed an association between soft drink consumption and aggression among five-year-olds.
“We see a strong relationship between high levels of soft drink consumption and behaviour problems, but we can’t explain why we see these effects,” said Shakira Suglia, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who led the study published today in the Journal of Paediatrics.
The new findings appear consistent with an earlier study published two years ago that had documented a strong association between soft drinks and aggression among a sample of adolescents — high-school students in a US city.
Suglia and her colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Vermont examined soft drink consumption and behaviour in a sample of 2,929 five-year-olds from 20 cities in the US. Four out of 10 children consumed at least one soft drink serving a day, while about 4 per cent (over 115 among the 2,929) consumed four servings a day.
They found that children who drank four or more soft drink servings a day were twice as likely to destroy others’ belongings, get into fights or attack others. Children who consumed the highest quantities of soft drinks were also more likely to exhibit attention problems and withdrawn behaviour, the researchers wrote in their paper.
The researchers said their results remained significant even after they had adjusted their data for several other possible factors — the child’s gender, family circumstances, levels of television watching, among others — that might also influence behaviour. The findings persisted even after they adjusted for consumption of chocolate or other sweets and fruit juice.
Suglia cautioned that a study revealing an association does not establish any cause-and-effect relationship, but raises the possibility that some ingredients in soft drinks may affect behaviour.
“These findings suggest there may be other reasons to avoid excess consumption of soft drinks than just the risk of excess weight and obesity,” Suglia told The Telegraph over phone.
But, she said, future studies would need to validate these findings through a more representative sample of young children as well as try to understand the mechanisms that might explain these observations.
Soft drinks contain carbonated water and several other ingredients such as caffeine, sugar, phosphoric or citric acid, among other compounds. Suglia and her colleagues point out that caffeine has been earlier linked by independent studies to insufficient sleep, nervousness, and impulsive behaviour in children and adolescents.
Another possibility, the researchers wrote in their study, is that underlying conditions, such as low blood sugar, could lead children both to want more soft drinks and to be aggressive or withdrawn.
The researchers also point out that their study could not adjust for levels of physical activity, watching violent video games, or other dietary factors that could also influence child behaviour.