Dr. Shakira Suglia and colleagues from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, HArvard School of Public Health and University of Vermont assessed nearly 3,000 five-year-old children enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeeing Study, which follows mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities, according to ScienceDaily.com. Mothers reported their child's soft drink consumption during the previous two months and completed the Child Behavior Checklist, which monitored various behavior problems. The researchers discovered that 43 percent of the children consumed at least 1 serving of soft drinks per day, and 4 percent consumed 4 or more.
Aggression, withdrawal, and attention problems were associated with soda consumption, even after adjusting for outside factors such as socioeconomic status, maternal depression, domestic violence and parental incarceration. The study concluded that children who drank 4 or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy others' property and physically assault people. They also had increased attention problems and withdrawal behavior as compared with children who did not consume soft drinks,
"We found that the child's aggressive behavior score increased with every increase in soft drinks servings per day," Suglia told ScienceDaily.com. “That was pretty striking to us," she said in the Orlando Sentinel.
While the study can't identify the exact nature of the association between soft drink consumption and behavioral problems, limiting or eliminating a child's soft drink consumption may reduce problem behaviors, ScienceDaily.com reports.
However, the study has weaknesses, Suglia told the Sentinel. For example, it relies on self-reported data, which can be unreliable. And it's unknown what exactly is causing the problem.
“It’s possible there’s something else associated with child behavior and soda consumption that we just didn’t account for,” she said in the Sentinel. “The study should be interpreted with caution.”
Suglia said in the Sentinel that she hopes to determine whether certain types of soda have a stronger link to behavior problems than others in future studies. For example, is the problem intensified in regular versus diet soda, or in caffeinated versus non-caffeinated soda?
Suglia told the Sentinel she suspects caffeine could be the culprit, since earlier studies have shown that caffeine is associated with impulsive behavior and nervousness in children and adolescents.
“We already know soda is not the healthiest option for kids,” she said in the Sentinel. “This is another reason to be concerned and to limit soda among adolescents and younger children.”