Children are swilling sweet beverages as never before, likely contributing to unhealthy weight gain, according to a new Columbia University study.

From 1999 to 2004, kids consumed a total of 270 calories per day from sugar-sweetened drinks and 100 percent fruit juice - up from 242 calories a day in the years 1988-1994. The pattern held true for children aged two to 19; the largest increase - 20 percent - was found in those aged six to 11, the authors reported in the current issue of Pediatrics.

The data, taken from national surveys, revealed no change in sweet-drink consumption by white adolescents, but significant increases occured among Mexican- and African-Americans. Most of the children's calories came from sugary drinks rather than 100 percent juice, but both have been blamed in the rise in obesity.

Meanwhile, in a separate Baylor College of Medicine analysis, researchers say the worries about fruit juice may be overblown. They reviewed 21 studies, 15 of which found no link between juice consumption and weight. However, nearly half of the 15 no-link studies were partly funded by the food and beverage industry, including two by the review authors themselves. Four of the 15 disclosed no funding source.

Contact staff writer Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or tavril@phillynews.com.