American Kids Gulping More Diet Drinks Than Ever

Researchers (and pretty much everyone else) ask: Is that good or bad?

Sure, they're sugar-free, but are diet sodas good for our kids? (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

More kids than ever are drinking diet beverages, a new study finds...but whether that’s a good thing seems to be anyone’s guess.

The number of children in the U.S. who are drinking artificially sweetened beverages doubled in the last decade, according to researchers who crunched numbers pulled from a large federal health survey. As Reuters reports, nearly 13 percent of kids were downing diet drinks in 2008, up from six percent ten years before.

Now, whether the image of a seven-year-old swilling a Diet Dr Pepper seems cute or appalling to you would somehow seem to depend on whether you watch Toddlers & Tiaras for its smart parenting tips or as a harbinger of American doom, but perhaps we digress…

MORE: Caramel Carcinogen? Your Soda Pop Could Kill You

In any case, researchers themselves seemed at a loss on how to spin the results. As Dr. Miriam B. Vos at Emory University told Reuters: “We do want children to drink less sugar….[insert what sounds to us like a pained, equivocating pause] but the challenge is that there are no studies that have looked at the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners in growing children.”

Translation: If you want to ply your kids with aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, don’t come crying to us when they end up with inexplicable muscle spasms and a penchant for eating dirt.

Just kidding: Artificial sweeteners have absolutely not been linked to muscle spasms or dirt-eating (a.k.a. “geophagy”).

But as Reuters notes, adults who regularly consume diet beverages do appear to have a higher risk for diabetes, heart problems and stroke, and studies on lab animals have found increased weight gain associated with artificial sweeteners. (“You sit around all day in a cage being force-fed saccharin and see what it does to your waistline,” sniffs the pudgy lab rat.)

So until more research can be done on the health effects of artificial sweeteners on children, Vos recommends playing it safe and giving your kids (surprise) water or milk.

She apparently has no advice on how to usher your little princess through the stages of Diet Coke withdrawal.  

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