Compared to the average kid in the U.S., young Latino children consume sugary drinks at an alarmingly high rate rate. In fact, nearly 75% of Latino kids in the U.S. have consumed a sugary drink like soda or juice by the time they reach two years of age. While parents might not think it is a big deal, this sugar consumption may have very serious effects in the long term.
The obesity epidemic in America is well-noted: about two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese in this country. But the high rates of childhood obesity are even more concerning, and these rates have notable ties to sugary drink consumption. Children who consume sugary drinks early on in life tend to be more overweight by the time they turn six years old.
The impact is even more pronounced within the Latino community. A startling 26% of Latino babies have consumed a sugary drink during infancy — a time where no such substances should be consumed at all. It’s not surprising that Latino children are twice as likely to be obese as white kids, given that they’re exposed to more soda marketing than any other group. One study found that Hispanic toddlers who watched Spanish-language TV viewed 33% more ads for soda and other sugary beverages than other groups. Salud! America reported that “being Latino and drinking sugary beverages at least once [a week are] associated with 2.3 times the odds of severe obesity in kindergarten.”
Often, childhood obesity can lead to the early onset of obesity-related diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. But parents and lawmakers can do their part to curb the climbing rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Researchers stress that portion control, including a reduction of sugar intake and overall calories, and increased physical activity can help. Parents should check the sugar content of food and drinks they bring into the home. They should also encourage healthier alternatives like water or low-fat milk — a change that can cause kids to consume more than 200 fewer calories every day.
Policies are making an impact, too. A 2010 California law prohibited licensed childcare sites from providing beverages with added sweeteners. It also mandated that drinking water be made available. Subsequent studies found that more childcare facilities served water with snacks and meals in 2012 than they did in 2008.
And when sugary drinks are taxed at higher rates, consumption decreases. After the implementation of a tax on these beverages in Mexico, sales and consumption of sugar-laden beverages went down while consumption of bottled water and milk went up.
Rosalie Aguilar, a project coordinator at Salud! America, says that above all else, parents need to get more involved and need to learn more about how their children are affected by what they put in their bodies.
“They should share this information with family and friends and find ways to contribute to a larger, sustainable change at a community level,” says Aguilar, adding that this involvement starts at home, and that Salud! America can provide parents with the tools and information they need to help their kids lead healthier lives.