Research Research and Professional Briefs| Volume 113, ISSUE 2, P269-275, February 2013

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Reducing Calories and Added Sugars by Improving Children's Beverage Choices

Published:January 23, 2013DOI:


      Because childhood obesity is such a threat to the physical, mental, and social health of youth, there is a great need to identify effective strategies to reduce its prevalence. The objective of this study was to estimate the mean calories from added sugars that are saved by switching sugar-sweetened beverages (including soda, fruit-flavored drinks, and sport drinks) and flavored milks consumed to unflavored low-fat milk (<1% fat) at meals and water between meals. Simulation analyses used 24-hour dietary recall data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (n=2,314), a 2005 national cross-sectional study of schools and students participating in the National School Lunch Program, to estimate changes in mean calories from added sugars both at and away from school. Overall, these changes translated to a mean of 205 calories or a 10% savings in energy intake across all students (8% among children in elementary school and 11% in middle and high schools). Eighty percent of the daily savings were attributed to beverages consumed away from school, with results consistent across school level, sex, race/ethnicity, and weight status. Children's consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages at home contributed the greatest share of empty calories from added sugars. Such findings indicate that parental education should focus on the importance of reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages served at home. This conclusion has implications for improving children's food and beverage environments for food and nutrition educators and practitioners, other health care professionals, policy makers, researchers, and parents.


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      R. R. Briefel is a senior fellow, Mathematica Policy Research, Washington, DC.


      C. Cabili is a researcher, Mathematica Policy Research, Washington, DC.


      A. Hedley Dodd is a senior researcher, Mathematica Policy Research, Washington, DC.


      A. Wilson is a graduate student, Department of Statistics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh; at the time of the study, he was a senior program analyst, Mathematica Policy Research, Cambridge, MA.