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Income, 'Screen Time' Affect Soda, Junk Food Consumption in Kids

Update Date: Aug 23, 2012 05:04 PM EDT

According to researchers from the University of Alberta, preschoolers from low-income communities and kids who spend more than two hours a day in front of a TV or video-game console have at least one thing in common: a thirst for sugary soda and juice. 

The study was published in the August issue of Public Health Nutrition and the summer edition of the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.

Researchers surveyed parents to evaluate the diets of 1,800 preschoolers.

The researchers found that 54.5 percent of four and five year-olds from poorer communities drank at least one soda per week. The same age groupAbout 41 percent of children of the same age group from higher socioeconomic backgrounds drank at least one soda per week. 

Preschoolers from low-income areas also drank less milk and consumed more fruit juice, which, like soda, is linked to rising sugar intake associated with childhood obesity.

Study co-author Kate Storey called the findings concerning.

"If you're drinking a lot of soda and fruit juice, that can displace consumption of water and milk, which are important not just for quenching thirst, but for developing healthy bones and teeth, and health and wellness in general," Storey said. 

Children from low- and medium-income neighborhoods were more likely than kids in high-income areas to eat foods like potato chips, fries, candies and chocolate.

Researchers suggested that it is possible families are choosing high-calorie foods because they are cheap and convenient, but, the neighborhood itself could also be a factor in food choices.

Children who attended daycare or kindergarten were significantly less likely to reach for junk. Storey said that illustrates how education can make a difference and lead to healthier eating habits, regardless of what's happening at home.

Researchers said the study is among the first to gather data on children of such an early age.

Researchers found similar drinking habits among preschoolers who spent more than two hours per day watching TV or playing video games.

Kids from poorer neighborhoods sat in front of screens more often, and drank larger volumes of sweetened beverages.

Study co-author John C. Spence said in addition to basic health education, this study identifies a need in how we're dealing with poverty and recognizing there's more to poverty than simply the number of dollars people have.

"Many families live in places that might not be very healthy for them and, as a result, they make unhealthy food choices," Spence said. "Dietary behavior and intake patterns are influenced heavily by what happens in the first few years with children, and they maintain those patterns throughout childhood and into adolescence."

Researchers found that only 30 percent of children ate enough fruits and vegetables, and 23.5 percent consumed the recommended amount of servings of grain products. 

The same problem did not exist with milk and meat or alternatives-a respective 91 per cent and 94 per cent of kids ate recommended servings.

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