Sugary drinks linked to classroom difficulties in children

A recent study examined the effects sugary drinks have on young children at school.

Alex Smolokoff, Editorial coordinator

November 5, 2021

3 Min Read
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Over the last several years, and especially as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, consumer opinions on sugar have increasingly worsened; recent proprietary NMI data indicated about 6 out of 10 consumers reported they typically watch the sugar content in their diet or search out food with lower sugar content.

Along with well-documented health risks associated with an overconsumption of sugar, such as diabetes and obesity, a recent study may also give parents a reason to beware of sugary drinks for their children. According to the study, some children have difficulty behaving and concentrating after consuming sugary beverages, while others saw decreased performance with math-related tasks (Soc Sci Med. 2011 Nov; 73(9): 1332–1339).

The study examined 462 preschool-aged children, randomly given either a sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverage before school. Students were evaluated both before and after consumption. After observation, the authors noted the sugary beverages conferred an initial “relaxing” effect on boys, before then making those male students more restless and less able to concentrate. Additionally, performance in math tasks was negatively impacted by sugary beverage consumption in boys.

Interestingly, the female students were not observed to suffer the same restlessness issue. In addition, math performance actually rose slightly for girls who consumed the sugar-sweetened drinks.

“Our study is the first to provide large-scale experimental evidence on the impact of sugary drinks on preschool children,” said Fritz Schiltz, Ph.D, one of the study’s authors. “The results clearly indicate a causal impact of sugary drinks on children's behavior and test scores.”

“The associated effects on in-class performance have major policy implications, as sugary drinks are still ubiquitously sold in schools and as the consumption of sugary drinks is typically higher among children from low-income households and among boys,” noted co-author Kristof De Witte.

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Though the results of the study are split between the male and female students, the results nevertheless show that sugary beverages can impact young children’s ability to concentrate and perform in classroom settings.

Parents are already increasingly concerned with the food their children consume. Recent FMCG Gurus data indicated only 54% of parents are satisfied with the health of their children. More than 60% of parents worry about not providing enough healthy food for their children. In Food & Beverage Insider’s December 2020 digital magazine, Children and toddler nutrition: Winning strategies to feed the future, Will Cowling of FMCG Gurus wrote the following:

"[About] 40% of parents admitted they can struggle to monitor the nutritional intake of their children. As an example, sugar is often seen as a primary dietary evil, associated with rising levels of obesity and diabetes. As a result, half (51%) of parents identified hidden sugars in food and beverages as a major concern, and 69% expressed concern about the amount of sugar in food and drink products targeted at kids."  

With many young children reliant on schools to provide at least one, and sometimes two, meals or snacks per day, parents should be able to reliably count on those meals being nutritious—and, therefore, not loaded with sugar. Natural, nutrient-rich meals and snacks are important for children to develop healthy eating habits, and that process should begin in schools.

About the Author(s)

Alex Smolokoff

Editorial coordinator, Informa

After a career in sportswriting, Alex Smolokoff was on the editorial team at Informa Markets from December 2018 through spring of 2022, working on Food & Beverage Insider. In his free time, he enjoys watching his hometown Boston sports teams.   

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