Expert Q&A

Soda: Should you limit your child’s consumption?

My 11-year-old son is addicted to soft drinks. He refuses to drink anything else I give to him. Should I give him diet sodas to avoid all the sugar?

You are right to be concerned about the excessive amount of sugar your son’s soda habit. In a nation where childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and many children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, consumption of sugary beverages holds a large part of the blame. However, I am afraid switching to diet soda is not the answer. While it would solve the problem of excessive sugar consumption, it brings up several other serious issues:

  • Phosphoric Acid. The active ingredient in most soda is phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid leaches calcium from the bones, weakening them and making them more prone to breaks. Switching to diet soda does not solve this problem.

  • Artificial Sweeteners. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal). The effect of these additives on our bodies and brains is controversial. Whether they are harmful or safe for your son, they are certainly not natural or healthy.
  • Nutrient deficiencies. This is not just about what your son drinks, it is about what he doesn’t drink. At 11-years-old, your son is growing. His body requires adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals to help him reach his growth potential. By not drinking milk and fruit juice, he may not be meeting his nutrition needs.

What should you do? Start by removing all soft drinks from your home. Then sit down and have a discussion with your son. Explain that the entire family needs to pay more attention to their health, and that drinking soda every day is not part of a healthy lifestyle. Let him know that you have decided not to bring soda into your home anymore. This does not mean he is not allowed to drink soda, but he will not drink them at home. Even if he continues to drink them away from home, this will significantly cut down on his sugar intake.

At home he can have water, milk, or fruit juice for meals and snacks. He will probably protest, but you must stand your ground. You cannot control what he drinks outside of your home, but you have every right to control what his options are at home. In fact, it is your responsibility as a parent.

Erica Lesperance, RD, LD
Contributing Expert

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