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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Replacing sugar-laden drinks with water has a dramatic impact on the amount of calories kids consume and may help in the fight against childhood obesity, researchers report.
"The key observation is that when kids substitute sugar-sweetened beverages with water, there is a significant decline in total energy intake without any compensatory increase in the consumption of other beverages or food," Dr. Y. Claire Wang from Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York, told Reuters Health.
Since kids consume a large amount of these "empty calories" nowadays (10 to 15 percent of their daily intake), she added, substituting calorie-free beverages "is a simple and effective way of eliminating the excess calories while improving the diet quality."
Sugar-sweetened beverages "should be viewed as treats, not necessities, and water is a perfect substitute for the purpose of thirst-quenching," Wang said.
Wang and colleagues analyzed diet data from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Survey of 3098 children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years.
They found that substituting sugar-sweetened beverages with water was associated with significant reductions in total calories consumed. Each 1 percent drop in sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a 6.6 drop in calories consumed, and this reduction was not filled by increases in other food or beverages.
Wang and colleagues estimate that replacing all sugary drinks with water could cut out an average of 235 calories out of kids' diets each day.
Since the late 1970s, consumption of sugary drinks by children and adolescents has increased "substantially," and is thought to be "an important contributing factor to obesity," the researchers point out in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
"Replacing these liquid calories with calorie-free beverage alternatives therefore represents a key strategy to eliminate excess calories and to prevent obesity in childhood," they conclude.