By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – One in five U.S. children and young adults don’t drink any water at all on a typical day, and a new study suggests they consume almost twice as many calories from sodas and sugary drinks as young people who do drink water.

On any given day, kids who didn’t drink water consumed an average of 93 more calories from sugar sweetened beverages like sodas and juice drinks than young people who did drink some water.

“These results are important because sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to many negative health conditions for children, including weight gain, dental caries, and type 2 diabetes,” said lead study author Asher Rosinger, director of the Water, Health, and Nutrition Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.

“Water is the healthiest drink people can consume, which is critical” for physical and mental health, Rosinger said by email.

Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages add empty calories to children’s diets, and substituting water for these drinks can help minimize the risk that young people will become overweight or obese, Rosinger’s team notes in JAMA Pediatrics.

For the current study, they examined dietary data collected from 2011 to 2016 on 8,400 kids and young adults ranging in age from 2 to 19 years old. On average, the survey participants were about 11 years old.

Overall, they consumed about 132 calories a day of sodas and other sugary drinks, the study found.

With any amount of water intake, kids’ average consumption of soda and sweet drinks dropped to 112 calories a day.

Without any water, however, children’s average consumption of soda and sweetened beverages rose to 210 calories a day.

Results didn’t appear to differ for boys versus girls, or based on family income levels.

But race and ethnicity did appear to influence the interactions between water and soda consumption.

When white children didn’t drink water, they averaged 237 calories a day from sugar sweetened beverages, compared with about 115 calories if they did drink water.

Black youth who drank no water got 218 calories a day from sodas and sweet drinks, compared with 125 calories for water drinkers.

And, Hispanic kids who didn’t drink water got 176 calories a day from sugar sweetened beverages, compared with 115 for water drinkers.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how drinking water might directly impact soda consumption, and it also wasn’t set up to prove whether any negative health outcomes were directly caused by sugary drinks.

Still, the results suggest that there may be an inverse relationship between kid’s sugary beverage intake and their water intake, said Christina Roberto, a researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Kids who aren’t drinking water are drinking more sugary drinks instead compared to kids who drink water,” Roberto, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “That suggests that getting kids to drink more water might help reduce their consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks, and both of those are important goals for promoting children’s health.”

Parents need to make sure kids understand the importance of drinking water, said Jennifer Emond, a researcher at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“Parents should encourage their kids to limit (sugar-sweetened beverages), including flavored waters and sports drinks, and to choose water instead,” Emond, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Schools have a lot of influence on teens’ beverage choices, too,” Emond said. “Schools need to create a physical and social environment where sugary drinks, including sports drinks and flavored waters, are not promoted, and were water is the chosen beverage.”

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics, online April 22, 2019.