A toast to clear and simple advice: Parents, it’s just milk and water for the kids

bestdrink-300x150Milk and water — it’s that simple. That’s the latest and official recommendation for what children 5 and younger mostly should drink.

For parents, if any doubt persists, that advice comes from leading health authorities, including Healthy Eating Research, a nutrition advocacy group funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The group developed the kids’ drink guidelines with the backing of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

The experts cautioned grown-ups about giving children sugary drinks, including, in a sure-to-be-contested suggestion, recommending a hard cap on fruit juices: for 100% juice, less than a cup a day.

The experts said that kids should, instead, be encouraged to eat whole fruit. It contains fiber that experts say has health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and constipation. Fiber also helps consumers feel fuller longer, helping them with weight control.

And, nope, mom and dad shouldn’t sneak in chocolate or other flavored milks. The experts, of course, approved of mother’s milk and formula for babies (but not costly and not-so-nutritious, formula-like products for tots). They frowned on “plant-based milks,” including products derived from soy, almonds, rice, and oats.

Natalie Muth, a pediatrician in Carlsbad, Calif., and a spokesperson for her specialist group, which was part of the expert panel, explained to U.S. News and World Report the importance of the recommendations on youngsters’ liquid consumption:

“While there are lots of recommendations available to parents on what children should eat, there’s actually not all that many recommendations – and especially not consistent recommendations – on what young children should drink. Combined with a million different types of drinks that now seem to be available to young children, it seemed like it was really time for there to be some type of consensus.”

Here are the guidelines, as U.S. News broke them down by kids’ ages: 0-6 Months —breast milk or infant formula; 6-12 Months —breast milk or infant formula and small amounts of plain drinking water introduced once solid foods become part of diet; 12-24 Months — whole milk and plain drinking water; and 2-5 Years — skim or low-fat milk and plain drinking water.

The experts said they expect push-back on their advice on fruit juice. But Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told the New York Times:

“When we talk about empty calories that are consumed through beverages and the number of calories people get from sugar-sweetened drinks, we’re not just talking about soda. Juice is another source of calories that nutritionally aren’t terrific.”

The newspaper also explained other issues that might concern parents about the drink recommendations, reporting:

“Recommendations to limit juice are not new: The pediatrics academy has long advised that babies not be given juice till they are a year old, and that the amount of juice be limited to four ounces per day for children between the ages of 1 and 3. Plant-based milk beverages like almond, oat and rice milk often contain added sweeteners or artificial flavorings, and are less nutritious than cow’s milk, a glass of which contains eight grams of protein along with nutrients such as calcium. With the exception of soymilk, plant-based milks are poor in protein. Though they are often fortified, scientists do not know whether people are able to absorb these nutrients as efficiently as those naturally present in other foods. Formulas marketed for toddlers are usually unnecessary, since most toddlers eat solid food; the products tend to be expensive and often contain added sugars.”

In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, I also work with families struggling with injuries inflicted on babies and children. Patients young and old can benefit greatly from staying healthy and far from needing assistance from the current health system, which is rife with error and risk. A key way to improve our health rests in how we eat and drink — and how we avoid the perils and health harms associated with excess weight and obesity, including diabetes and heart and lung conditions.

As the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:

“Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health. Obesity prevalence among children and adolescents is still too high. For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years: The prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents. Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds.”

Pediatricians and other medical specialists and researchers say that youngsters today, bombarded with advertising and other come-ons, get hooked early on cheap, empty, and unhealthy calories from processed foods and sugary drinks. It may seem like a reasonable idea to give kids fruit juices. But in too many cases this creates a hard-to-quench appetite that grows up alongside the youngsters themselves for colorfully packaged, entertaining, and sugar-laden beverages, especially sodas, diet sodas, flavored waters, and athletic drinks.

Public health advocates have persuaded voters about the pernicious effects of sodas and diet sodas, with governments seeing youngsters health improve when drink taxes get levied and consumption declines. Alas, Big Soda continues to battle with increasing success to defeat soda levies.

But if voters can’t defeat Big Sugar and the harms it and Big Soda can cause with the young via the ballot box, grownups may succeed in a longer campaign — ensuring that youngsters don’t develop bad habits and from their earliest days they consume simple, cost effective, and healthier drinks like milk and water. We can all raise a glass to that idea.

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