A study suggests that children who consume fizzy drinks like Coke on a daily basis exhibit more impulsive behavior and have poorer memory. New research has revealed the potential harmful effects of caffeinated fizzy drinks on children as young as nine. The study involved analyzing over 2,000 US children aged between nine and 10, who were asked about their frequency of consuming drinks like Coke, Pepsi, or Dr Pepper. Additionally, the children were given various tasks to perform while their brain activity was recorded. One task required them to determine if an object presented to them was the same as one they had seen before.
The analysis, published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, found that children who consumed caffeinated fizzy drinks every day displayed more impulsive behavior and had poorer working memory. A low working memory can lead to difficulties in organizing or completing tasks with multiple steps, missing details in instructions, or losing track of progress. Furthermore, children who regularly consumed caffeinated soda showed distinct brain activity compared to their non-drinking peers. For instance, during the impulse control task, daily drinkers exhibited lower activity in a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Reduced activity in the ACC is commonly observed in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and individuals with substance use disorders. In the working memory test, daily drinkers showed less activation in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), a part of the frontal lobe. Previous studies have linked reduced activation in the frontal cortex to lower working memory capacity.
The researchers from Seoul National University also discovered that children who consumed fizzy drinks daily were twice as likely to have tried alcohol when followed up a year later. Lead author Mina Kwon stated that their findings suggest a predictive relationship between daily consumption of caffeinated soda in children and future substance use. One possible explanation is that the substances found in caffeinated soda, such as caffeine and sugar, could have a toxicological effect on the brain, making individuals more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of harder drugs like alcohol. This idea is known as the “gateway hypothesis,” although the team also mentioned the possibility of the “common liability hypothesis.” According to this theory, children who struggle to regulate their impulses naturally are more likely to seek out and try substances like caffeine at an early age. As they grow older and gain easier access to illicit substances, they may progress to harder drugs like alcohol.
Professor Woo-Young Ahn, another researcher involved in the study, emphasized that frequent consumption of caffeinated soda could indicate a higher risk of initiating substance use in the future due to shared risk factors between the two behaviors. He highlighted the importance of developing evidence-based recommendations for caffeinated soda consumption in minors, as there is currently no consensus on a safe dose of caffeine for children. Some children may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects associated with frequent caffeine consumption than others. The team emphasized the need for further research to investigate if there is a pattern between the consumption of caffeinated fizzy drinks among nine to 10-year-olds and their use of other substances as they age.
In response to the study, Gavin Partington, Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), pointed out several limitations in the research. He stated that BSDA members do not market or promote energy drinks to individuals under 16 years old, and energy drinks carry an advisory note stating they are not recommended for children. The BSDA Code of Practice on energy drinks, introduced in 2010, includes strict guidelines on responsible marketing. Partington reiterated the commitment to supporting the responsible sale of energy drinks.
In conclusion, the study highlights the potential harmful effects of daily consumption of fizzy drinks on children’s impulsivity, memory, and brain activity. It also suggests a possible link between daily consumption of caffeinated soda and future substance use. The researchers emphasize the need for evidence-based recommendations and further research to better understand the relationship between fizzy drink consumption and the use of other substances.
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