Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Latino, black children in California are drinking less soda, but more sugary fruit juice

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Shoppers look at juices in a large chain food store in Glendale. A new study from UC San Francisco says young Latinos and blacks are drinking more juice, which one South L.A. nurse practitioner says isn't as healthy as many people think.

Soda consumption among children in California is on the decline, according to a new UC study. But black and Latino children may be replacing it with a beverage that's just as sugary.

Writing in the journal Academic Pediatrics, researchers from UC San Francisco said young Latinos and blacks seem more likely to replace that soda with fruit juice.

Alexis Gomez, a family nurse practitioner at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, said one common misperception is that fruit juice is healthier than soda.

"The best thing would be to get juice that doesn't add sugar," he said. "But most of those juices are really expensive, and it's really hard for poor kids to afford that."

What low-income children can afford, he said, are the cheaper versions, where makers add more water and then add sugar to cover up for the diluted taste.

"Unfortunately, every time I do a physical exam on a kid, most of whom are Hispanic or African-American, when I ask them what they drink, most of them drink soda, and all of them drink juice," said Gomez, specifying that the juice they drink is the type with added sugar.

Overconsumption of sugary drinks can increase a young person's chances of becoming obese, due to the "excess of calories," and developing type 2 diabetes, due to the extra sugar, Gomez said.

"The best thing to do is make the juice at your house," he said. "Buy the fruit, get a juice machine and make your own. You can also add some vegetables to get some more vitamins and minerals to give you a perfectly-balanced snack."

Or better yet, Gomez added, just eat the fruit.

UCSF researchers found that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among children of all ethnicities between ages 2 and 5 dropped 24 percent between 2003 and 2009; among children between ages 6 and 10, it dropped 21 percent.

Despite that drop, there were higher rates of consumption among black and Latino children, as well as children whose parents had lower levels of education, the authors of the study wrote.

Among children between the ages of 2 and 5, rates of juice consumption decreased among white children and increased among Latinos; for children between 6 and 11, consumption rates remained stable for white children and rose for their black and Latino counterparts.

In a statement, the researchers attributed that to "mixed messages about juice," noting that the public health message about juice right now is that if it's 100 percent juice, it's OK. There have been campaigns to reduce soda consumption among children, the authors added, but fewer efforts to get children to reduce the amount of fruit juice they drink.

"Our results stress the need for more education on healthy beverages and making sure these messages reach all ethnic groups," Dr. Amy Beck, the lead author of the study said in the statement. She added that the best thing parents can use as a replacement for soda is water or milk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children who are 6 or younger drink a maximum of between four and six ounces of fruit juice a day. For children 7 or older, it recommends they drink no more than 12 ounces daily.

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