The findings of a new government study show that empty calories still form a major portion of the diet of children and adolescents in the US primarily due to the consumption of foods that are high in sugars such as pizza, cookies, sugary drinks, and other similar beverages.
More precisely, the study shows that while children’s’ diets have improved in comparison with that of a decade ago, sugary beverages form nearly one-quarter of the diet even today, which means that the child is still at a very high risk of developing health conditions including obesity which can then pave the way for heart disease, metabolic disorder, and type 2 diabetes in the future.
The term ’empty calories’ is usually used for foods that are rich in calories but offer almost little to no nutritional value and are often a part of a poor diet. In the new study, the researchers applied the terminology to the calories from fats like shortening or butter as well as the added sugars in beverages.
According to the studies from the past, sugary drinks such as fruit juices, flavored milk, and soda are among the biggest contributors to sugar in the daily intake of most of the children. For toddlers and children who are in pre-school, simply cutting down the consumption of milk and fruit juices can improve the diet significantly.
Edwina Wambogo from the U.S. National Cancer Institute explains that parents of toddlers and adolescents need to be extra careful in avoiding beverages containing added sugars as they are present in almost every other product available in the market, especially in drinks.
Added sugars are present in nearly all drinks ranging from children’s flavored milk, fruit juices, sports drinks, sodas, and fizzy drinks, cold teas, and coffees, which is why switching from one drink to another is not likely to make any difference or improvement in the diet of the child.
The biggest improvement that can be made, in accordance with Edwina, is reducing the intake of liquid sugar in children. While other beverages such as cookies, pizza, and cake also contain a big amount of added sugar and increase daily sugar consumption, children tend to drink sugar in the form of drinks more often.
At many times, the drinks, specifically sodas, are even combined with pizza or cookies by children, which collectively adds a lot of empty calories to daily consumption.
Wambogo, who will present the findings of the new research at the yearly meeting of the American Society for Nutrition online, explained that drinks are essentially more harmful than calories coming from beverages with solid fats such as pizza.
This is because pizza can have some nutritional value especially if it is made at home and topped with vegetables by a parent. The context makes a big difference, Wambogo further explained. Making beverages like burgers and pizza at home is very different than going out with the family for food.
Read more on children’s nutrition here.
The former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Connie Diekman, agreed, saying “Pizza is not the problem. The issue is—what is on it, and what does the rest of your family’s eating plan look like?”
Diekman further suggested that parents should prefer low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats to change their children’s poor diet. With foods like pizza, there are many ways to make it healthier and delicious at the same time at home so that children can eat it.
However, in the case of sugary drinks, such changes are unlikely as most of the drinks contain empty calories. Therefore, limiting the intake of liquid sugar can go a long way and improve diets significantly for children.