Is Diet Soda the Answer to Childhood Obesity?


Child Drinking Soft Drink

A recent study showed that the percentage of children who drink diet drinks doubled between 1999 and 2008. Is diet soda the answer to childhood obesity?

About a quarter of adults drink no-calorie or low-calorie sweetened drinks and foods. Kids imitate their parents and other adults they admire, and they seem to be picking up this habit, too.

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to keep kids from getting fat. Some companies are specifically marketing artificially sweetened children’s drinks. While the usual answer is to send kids out to play and not worry about the calories they’re consuming, Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim pointed out that the amount of physical activity Americans engage in has basically stayed the same since the 1980s.

So what’s a health-conscious parent to do? Since kids are burning as many calories today as they did in days of yore, that leaves only caloric intake to tinker with. In searching for ways to reduce calories, many parents seem to be looking to artificial sweeteners for their kids’ food.

Artificial sweeteners have been around a while, and many studies have been done on them. Some studies suggest that diet soda is correlated with higher incidence of strokes, brain cancer, and even weight gain (oh, the irony). There haven’t been any studies (that I know of) assessing the affect of artificial sweeteners on developing brains and bodies.

Some say that replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with drinks with artificial sweeteners is a step in the right direction. I suppose that could be true, but it doesn’t really go far enough. Why are kids drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in the first place? Especially often enough that the sugar might affect their weight.

Child drinking soft drink photo via Shutterstock

5 thoughts on “Is Diet Soda the Answer to Childhood Obesity?”

  1. It is not as simple as calories taken in vs. calories expended. The childhood diet of the past 20 years has comprised a huge percentage of genetically modified foods as well chemicals in the form of flavorings, colorings, enhancers, and sweeteners. A huge percentage of a child’s food is supplied by chemical companies.

    We must consider whether this is one of the key factors in the health changes we see in children.

    i have recently made a concerted effort to avoid GMOs, cut out drinking milk, and added cultured and fermented along with mostly organic alternatives. All of our produce is now organic, yogurt (which i make from organic milk), homemade bread (made from organic flour), organic oatmeal and rice, have all had a positive impact on my children’s energy levels, calmness, and mood.

    My overweight child has lost weight and my underweight child has gained weight.

    Thanks for your posts. As always, it is good to make us think about food.

    1. You make a good point about the quality and types of food we feed our kids. Even the processed foods were cleaner when I was a kid!

      I spent a month avoiding GMOs and processed foods. It wasn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible.

  2. And to comment directly to the question of whether replacing sugary drinks with drinks artificially sweetened. Absolutely not!

    We do not drink juice or sweetened drinks except the occasional glass of tea, herbal and black. I provide my children with stevia, raw honey and organic sugar. I don’t even allow my children to “drink” milk anymore. I buy organic whole milk and make yogurt.

    While we do on rare occasions enjoy a soft drink, it is not an everyday occurrence.

    Parents must be the boss when it comes to food. The occasional treat is fine. Everyday sugary drinks is not.

  3. What are your thoughts on “natural” diet sodas, like Zevia which is sweetened with stevia. Could that be an option for these parents?

    My kids are little and haven’t shown an interest in soda, but I do let them drink juice, milk, almond milk, smoothies, lemonade, and both sweet and regular tea. We use fruit, honey, or cane sugar to sweeten beverages and the vast majority of what they drink is still plain water.

    1. I’ve never tried a diet soda sweetened with stevia. I might have to look for one next time I’m at the store. I grew a stevia plant once and the leaves tasted just like sugar.

      I’m doing the same with my kid. Mostly water, but she can also drink other stuff she wants. She just has no interest in soft drinks.

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