NOVEMBER 14, 2019 — This fall, four leading health organizations shared a new report focused on what drinks to serve to little kids to help them grow up healthy. All four organizations agreed: Sugary drinks are not recommended for children ages 5 and younger.
In this report, sugary drinks include the following beverages:
- Fruit drinks and ades (like lemonade), which can be in liquid or powdered form
- Sports and energy drinks
- Sweetened water
The report also recommends not serving little children flavored milk, like chocolate or strawberry.
“People are born with a preference for sweet tastes, and the early years are an important time for forming life-long flavor and food preferences,” stated the online report. “Minimizing children’s exposure to sweet-tasting foods and drinks early on could be a strategy for helping to shape their taste buds to prefer less sweetness throughout life.”
Sugary drinks can lead to many health problems
These recommendations for what drinks to serve and not serve to little children followed a review of scientific research and a consensus by four health organizations: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association. These organizations published a report that is part of the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids project run through the national Healthy Eating Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign reinforces these national recommendations in its communication materials for families, schools, child care centers and health care providers.
Research shows strong evidence of health harms linked to sugary drinks. Drinking these beverages in early childhood can lead to cavities in teeth, weight gain and obesity, and other health problems that develop during a lifetime. Instead, the report prioritizes serving two drinks: water and plain, white milk.
“Drinks with added sugars offer little to no nutritional benefits, often take the place of healthier foods and drinks in a person’s diet, and don’t make you feel full,” stated a Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids fact sheet.
Summary of the new recommendations
The new report includes recommendations broken down for different ages of children and different types of drinks. Below are the drink recommendations for children ages 2–5. The report suggests talking with your child’s health care provider to tailor these recommendations to the child’s specific health needs.
Serve water or milk to children
- Children ages 2–3 should drink 1–4 cups of water each day.
- Children ages 4–5 should drink 1 ½–5 cups of water each day.
According to the report, the amount of water children need will depend on their activity, the weather, and how much fluids they are getting from other drinks and foods.
- Children ages 2–3 should drink up to 2 cups a day of plain, pasteurized fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Children ages 4–5 should drink up to 2 ½ cups a day.
Limit serving juice
100% fruit juice:
Only serve 100% fruit juice if your child is not eating enough whole fruit. If you choose to serve juice:
- Children ages 2–3 should drink no more than ½ cup (4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice per day.
- Children ages 4–5 should drink no more than ½ cup–¾ cup (4–6 ounces) per day.
The report stressed that these recommendations for drinking juice are upper limits for the day, not minimum requirements. These daily limits are recommended because even 100% fruit juice can lead to cavities and unhealthy weight gain, the report said.
The report noted that 100% juice is not the same thing as other drinks with “fruit” or “juice” in the name. Drinks that have 100% juice do not contain added sugar. Drinks that say “fruit” or “juice” may have little if any juice and could be mainly water and added sugar. Ounce for ounce, a fruit drink can have as much added sugar as soda.
Avoid serving drinks with added sugar, low-calorie sweeteners and caffeine
Parents of little children should avoid serving the following drinks:
- Sugary drinks, including all of those listed earlier
- Flavored milks, like chocolate or strawberry
- “Transition” or “weaning” formulas that can be called toddler milks, growing-up milks or follow-up formulas
- Drinks with caffeine, such as soda and energy drinks
- Low-calorie sweetened drinks, often called diet or light drinks that are sweetened with stevia, sucralose or other artificial sweeteners
- Plant-based or non-dairy milks, such as almond, rice or oat milks. With the exception of fortified soy milk, these alternatives can lack important nutrients that are found in cow’s milk.
“Unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good choice if a child is allergic to dairy, lactose intolerant, or is in a family that does not eat dairy products,” the online report stated. “Be sure to consult with your health care provider when choosing a plant-based/non-dairy milk.”
Go online to learn more
The complete set of recommendations are found online at the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids website.
- Health care professionals can find more information online, including the full report and communication materials for families.
- Parents and professionals can also find summaries by age and type of drink.
- The website includes fact sheets that summarize recommendations for certain drinks: