Packed with calories and additives, soft drinks don’t just pose a nutritional problem: when they are caffeinated and children drink them on a daily basis, they may have consequences on development and could even lead to higher risk of alcohol consumption in the future.
It has previously been established that soft drinks, like any ultra-processed food or drink, could be associated with the development of depression. This was one of the major findings of recent US research involving women aged between 42 and 62.
“This is an important potential mechanism linking ultra-processed food to depression since there is emerging evidence that microbes in the gut have been linked with mood through their role in metabolising and producing proteins that have activity in the brain,” study co-author Dr Andrew T Chan from Harvard Medical School told CNN at the time.
Artificial sweeteners in soft drinks were identified as a possible source of this increased risk of depression.
Some sodas also contain caffeine, which can be problematic for the younger population, especially children. Frequent consumption of soft drinks has now been identified as a potential gateway to future alcohol consumption at an early age.
This conclusion was shared by researchers from South Korea and the US state of Virginia, who worked on studying the effects of caffeinated carbonated soft drinks on children aged nine and 10.
More than 2,000 US children were followed for a year for this study, the results of which are published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse. The scientists concluded that nine-to-10-year-olds who drank caffeinated sodas daily were twice as likely to try alcohol within a year.
“Our findings suggest that daily consumption of caffeinated soft drinks in children is predictive of substance use in the near future,” explained lead author Mina Kwon from the Department of Psychology at Seoul National University.
“One possible explanation is that the substances contained in caffeinated soda (caffeine and sugar) could induce a toxicological effect on the brain, making the individual more sensitive to the reinforcing effects of harder drugs like alcohol.”
While the analysis also took into account family history of drug use and low parental education, the researchers noted “there is no consensus on a safe dose of caffeine in children, and some kids might be more vulnerable to adverse effects associated with frequent caffeine consumption than others”.
A potentially increased likelihood of trying alcohol at a young age was not the only finding: the scientists also noted that children who drank caffeinated soft drinks every day were more impulsive and had a poorer working memory.
All the more reason to monitor and limit your young ones’ intake of such beverages.