Studies Show a Link Between Soft Drinks and Aggression in Children

Soda may actually lead to aggressive behavior in children.
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To some parents, the idea that soda could lead to aggressive behavior in kids may sound a bit far fetched. After all, can a beverage really cause your child to physically attack someone? Well, studies indicate there's a clear link between aggressive behavior and soft drink consumption in children.

The Health Problems Associated Soft Drinks

Americans buy more soda per capita than people in any other country in the world.

And many of those individuals consuming soda are very young children.

Over the years, there has been a big push to eliminate soft drinks from school vending machines and to educate parents about the risks associated with sugary drinks. Physicians and nutritionists have made it clear that soda provides children with empty calories and contributes to childhood obesity.

Dentists advise parents not to let children drink soda as well. Sugary drinks aren't good for children's teeth and may cause cavities.

Most soft drinks also contain caffeine. Caffeine can cause headaches, upset stomach, jitteriness, and sleep problems. It’s also been associated with some behavioral problems and nervous system disorders.

In children, it doesn’t take much caffeine to produce effects. The American Academy of Pediatric discourages caffeine intake for kids of all ages.

The Behavior Problems Associated With Soft Drinks

If the health problems aren’t enough to dissuade parents from giving kids soda, the behavior problems associated with soft drinks might be a deterrent.

A 2013 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that aggression, withdrawal behavior, and attention problems are linked to soft drink consumption in young children.

The researchers assessed 3,000 5-year-old children from 20 different U.S. cities. Even after adjusting for factors such as maternal depression, paternal incarceration, and domestic violence, soft drink consumption was still linked to aggressive behavior.

Children who drank four or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy other people's belongings, get into fights, and physically attack people.

Potential Reasons for the Link Between Soft Drink and Aggression

It’s unclear why soda consumption was associated with more behavior problems. Since soft drinks are highly processed, researchers suspect ingredients such aspartame or phosphoric acid may be linked to behavior problems.

Caffeine has also been linked to some behavior problems in children, so researchers suspect the caffeine content may play a role.

High soda intake may also affect blood glucose levels. Low blood glucose may cause children to crave soda, while also causing them to become withdrawn or aggressive.

The Dangers of Soft Drink Consumption and Older Children

Studies have also linked behavioral and emotional problems in teens to soft drink consumption. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion linked soft drink consumption to aggression, depression, and suicidal behavior in adolescents.

The more soda teens drank, the more likely they were to be in a physical fight. In addition, they were more likely to feel sad or hopeless and to report suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Could Your Child’s Behavior Stem From Soft Drinks?

If your child drinks soda, aggression may be linked to his soft drink consumption. Eliminating soda from your child’s diet may improve his behavior.  Aside from improved behavior, eliminating soda will have health benefits as well.

In addition to eliminating soft drinks, don’t allow your child to consume energy drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages children from drinking energy drinks. Many of them contain stimulants like guarana and taurine, as well as massive amounts of caffeine.

If your child is aggressive, eliminating soft drinks could be one step in a comprehensive behavior management plan.

Your child may need to learn new skills, such as impulse control and conflict resolution.

Negative consequences, like time-out and restitution, can reduce aggressive behavior.  But, consequences and discipline need to be consistent.

Reward systems and praise can also be healthy ways to promote pro-social behavior. Token economy systems can be especially effective in reducing aggressive behavior.

If you’re struggling to manage your child’s aggression, or your discipline strategies aren’t working, talk to your child’s doctor. Your child’s pediatrician may assess him for behavior disorders or mental health issues and you may be referred to a professional who can help you find the most effective discipline strategies to manage your child’s behavior.

Sources

Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. Soft drinks, aggression and suicidal behaviour in US high school students. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion. 2013;21(3):266-273.

Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1182-1189.

Suglia SF, Solnick S, Hemenway D. Soft Drinks Consumption Is Associated with Behavior Problems in 5-Year-Olds. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2013;163(5):1323-1328. 

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