NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Contrary to popular belief, drinking pure 100 percent fruit juice does not make young children overweight or at risk for becoming overweight, new research shows. Pure fruit juice provides essential nutrients and, in moderation, may actually help children maintain a healthy weight.
Inconsistent research findings have led to continued debate over the potential associations between drinking 100 percent fruit juice, nutrient intake, and overweight in children.
In the their study, researchers analyzed the juice consumption of 3,618 children ages 2 to 11 using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
"The bottom line is that 100 percent juice consumption is a valuable contributor of nutrients in children's diet and it does not have an association with being overweight," study chief Dr. Theresa Nicklas, a child nutrition specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Reuters Health. She presented the new data at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual convention in Toronto this week.
"If you look at the weight of the evidence there are at least 7 studies plus the one I presented (this week) that show no association between 100 percent juice and overweight among children," Nicklas added. Even among the children who consumed the most juice, there was no association with the children being overweight or at risk for overweight, she said.
The results also indicate that juice consumption "is not excessive among 2- to 11-year-olds," Nicklas said. In fact, 57 percent of the children did not consume 100 percent juice at all, "which is much higher than I expected," she said.
The average daily consumption of pure fruit juice in the study population was 4.1 ounces (about half a cup) -- an amount in line with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And while there were a few children (13 percent) who consumed larger amounts of juice (12 ounces or more), their increased intake was not associated with overweight or at risk for being overweight. In fact, children in the 2 to 3-year-old category who drank the most juice were nearly three times less likely to be overweight or at risk for overweight than children who drank no juice at all.
Nicklas and her colleagues also found that children who drank any amount of 100 percent juice ate less total fat, saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and added fats. Pure juice drinkers also had higher intakes of a number of key nutrients including vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, folate, vitamin B6 and iron. They also ate more whole fruits, like apples.
Nicklas encourages parents who are concerned about their child being overweight to look beyond their juice consumption. "My advice would be to look at the total number of calories that child is taking in and look at where the bulk of those calories are coming from and equally important look at the activity level of the child."