Hold the lectures about mountains of sugar, tons of empty calories and loads of artificial ingredients. A new study from Belgium suggests that parents can rein in the amount of soda their kids consume with three steps. The study looked at differences between high-volume soda drinkers and low-volume drinkers, who had about 40 percent less sugary, fizzy stuff a day. What worked:
#1: Drinking something else with meals. Low-fat or fat-free milk (after age 2), water, unsweetened iced tea (herbal fruit teas are yummy) are great alternatives to the fizzy stuff. In this study, a no-soda rule at mealtimes explained about half of the difference in soda consumption between high-volume and low-volume soda drinkers.
#2: Not stocking soda at home. If it's not there, they can't drink it. A "no soda on board" policy explained about 16 percent of the gap between kids who drank a little or a lot of soda.
#3: Not allowing kids to drink soda whenever they want. Parents who decide when kids can have a glass of soda as a treat – and not giving in to the bottomless refills at fast-food joints and restaurants – accounts for about 30 percent of the difference between big-time soda sippers and moderate sippers, the researchers said.
Surprisingly, parents' own soda habits didn't seem to make a lot of difference. (OK, that one doesn't really make sense to me – if parents don't keep it in the house and don't haul it out for meals, they're drinking less themselves. Plenty of research suggests that kids pattern their own eating habits after what they see their parents doing.)
The study, published in the journal Appetite, is based on a survey of 1,639 parents of kids ages 2 to 7. Other experts, not involved with the study, say the findings add up. "It makes sense that the home environment and home 'policies' or limits related to soft drinks will have the biggest impact," on soda consumption, said Kate Decking, a nutritional science research at Cornell University. "Our behavior is very strongly influenced by our environments," Decking said.
Sugar-sweetened drinks have been linked with increased risk for childhood obesity and diabetes, and with lower intakes of bone-friendly, calcium- and vitamin-D rich milk.