As kids, we were told to drink juice because it was good for us.  We used to drink just one small glass and never thought twice about it effecting our weight.  Today, beverage portion sizes, especially sugar-containing drinks including fruit juice, are larger than they once were.  Some kids are replacing sodas and sports drinks with fruit juice, but is it healthier? According the American Academy of Pediatrics, drinking excessive amounts of juice can lead to obesity and tooth decay. So the question is, how much is too much?

Drinking Fruit Juice Changes BMI

An article published online in Pediatrics today looked at the relationship between drinking 100 percent fruit juice and the risk of obesity in children ages 1-18 years from eight studies. The analysis of the data focused on whether drinking more juice caused a change in the children's body mass index. The results of the study showed that in children aged 1 to 6 years who drank a single serving (6 ounces) of 100 percent fruit juice daily, had slight weight gain over their non-juice drinking peers. The researchers point out the weight gain from one serving of juice may not be "clinically significant" meaning it may not have a notable effect in daily life.

Weight gain was not found in older juice drinking children ages 7-18 years.  Do these results translate into that all young children will gain weight if they drink 6 ounces of fruit juice every day? It appears that drinking the recommended serving of fruit juice may result in a small weight gain, but as children grow older, this risk declines.

Fruit Juice Recommendations

How much fruit juice are kids actually drinking? Children ages 2-18 years are drinking an average of 10.6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice daily.

The AAP juice recommendations include the following:

  • Children younger than 6 months: Do not give fruit juice. It offers no nutritional benefits.
  • Children ages 1-6 years: Limit fruit juice to 4-6 ounces/day.
  • Children ages 7-18 years: Limit fruit juice to 8-12 ounces/day.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that one third of all fruit consumption is from fruit juice and children under the age of 5 are more likely to have fruit juice rather than eating whole fruit.

Take Home Message

  • Choose juices labeled 100 percent fruit juice and avoid beverages with words like fruit "cocktail", "ade", or "punch".  These are not 100 percent juice and most contain added sugars and less nutrients.
  • Try diluting juice with water if your child wants to drink more than the recommended amount.
  • It is important to not allow toddlers to walk around or fall asleep with a bottle or sippy cup filled with juice. This may lead to tooth decay.

Eating whole fruit is a healthier choice than fruit juice since it is more nutrient dense and has dietary fiber. Even though drinking a single serving of 100 percent fruit juice does not result in a significant weight gain, limiting portions to the recommended amounts, as well as eating the whole fruit, is a healthier choice.

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