Young children in California are consuming fewer sodas and other sugary drinks than in previous years, according to a Davis-based public health advocacy group, and that’s the good news. The bad news: Pre-teens and teenagers are drinking more than ever.
A report being released Thursday by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found consumption of sugary beverages decreased by 30 percent among children ages 2 to 5 and by 26 percent among children ages 6 to 11 between 2005 and 2012.
But consumption by adolescents ages 12 to 17 increased by 8 percent during that time period.
The findings were based on interviews with more than 40,000 California households who participated in the California Health Interview Study, providing data from 2005 to 2012.
The report also found differences among races and ethnicities, with 74 percent of African-American adolescents and 73 percent of Latino adolescents consuming at least one sugary drink per day, while 63 percent of Asian adolescents and 56 percent of white adolescents consumed that much.
The biggest increase in daily consumption of sugary beverages came among Asian adolescents — up from 48 percent consuming at least one daily to 63 percent, the report found.
The findings also revealed that the same proportion of youths were drinking soda, but 23 percent more are drinking energy and sports drinks, which are also high in sugar.
“California has made real progress in reducing the consumption of sugary beverages among young children,” said Dr. Susan Babey, the report’s lead author. “But teens are in trouble. Soda or sports drinks should be an occasional treat, not a daily habit.
“If this trend isn’t reversed there may be costly consequences for teens, their families and the health care system in the form of increased obesity and diabetes.”
The authors noted that almost 40 percent of California youths are overweight and one-third of children born in 2000 — including half of Latino and African-American children — will develop diabetes sometime in their lives. Sugary drinks, the researchers said, are the largest source of added sugar in the diets of children and adolescents and a significant contributor to caloric intake.
Although the study did not examine causes for the increased sugary-beverage consumption among pre-teens and teens, CCPHA executive director Dr. Harold Goldstein suggested that corporate marketing might play a role.
“As parents learn more about the harm from consuming sugary drinks, they are limiting how much their children drink,” Goldstein said. “Teens, however, are more independent, making them an ideal target for beverage companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing sugary drinks to them, including deceptively healthy-sounding beverages like sports drinks and vitamin water.
“We may not be able to protect teens everywhere but we should at least close the loophole in state law that allows beverages companies to sell sugary sports drinks on middle and high school campuses.”
Most counties in California saw an overall reduction in sugary-drink consumption by children. The percentage of Yolo County children ages 2 to 17 consuming at least one sugary beverage per day decreased from 42 percent to 40 percent, according to the report.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy