New research from the University of Alberta (Canada) comes to the conclusion that preschoolers from low-income neighborhoods and children who spend more than two hours of screen-time a day either watching TV or playing video games have a "thirst for sugary soda and juice."
They draw these conclusions from a larger study on diet, physical activity and obesity - based on a survey of 1,800 parents of preschoolers in the Edmonton area. The survey results - assuming the respondents didn't fib - found that 54.5 percent of four- and five-year-olds from poorer neighborhoods drank at least one soda a week compared to children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds (40.8 percent). Children from low income households also drank less milk and more fruit juice.
Study co-author Kate Storey (a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the School of Public Health) says that drinking soda and juice instead of milk or water has impact on a child's weight, bone and teeth development, and general well being.
The survey also found similar drinking habits among preschoolers who spent more than two hours a day in front of a screen – be it TV or video games. Kids from poorer neighborhoods also spent more time in front of screens and drank larger volumes of sweetened beverages than kids from wealthier homes.
A companion study involving the same preschoolers also looked at the types of foods they ate and whether they followed the recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide.
Only about 30 percent of those children ate enough fruits and vegetables, while 23.5 percent consumed the recommended amounts of grains. Consumption of milk came in at 91 percent, while meat consumption was at 94 percent. The study also found that children in low and medium income households were more likely to eat junk food like potato chips, fries, candies and chocolate. Researchers posit that this happens because families are choosing high-calorie foods that are cheaper and more convenient. However, it could also be a function of the neighborhood they live in.
The good news, according to researchers, is that children who attended daycare or kindergarten are significantly less likely to reach for junk food because education can help change eating habits.
The study was published in the August issue of Public Health Nutrition, and will be included in the summer edition of the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.