The Link Between Soft Drinks and Aggression in Children

children drinking soda

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To some parents, the idea that soda could lead to aggressive behavior in kids may sound a bit far fetched. After all, can a beverage really cause your child to physically attack someone? Well, studies indicate there's a clear link between aggressive behavior and soft drink consumption in children,​ and there are other concerns to consider.

The Health Problems Associated Soft Drinks

Americans have some of the highest consumption rates of soda per capita worldwide. And many of those people consuming soda are very young children.

Over the years, there has been a big push to eliminate soft drinks from school vending machines and to educate parents about the risks associated with sugary drinks. Physicians and nutritionists have made it clear that soda provides children with empty calories and contributes to childhood obesity.

Dentists advise parents not to let children drink soda as well. Sugary drinks aren't good for children's teeth and may cause cavities.

Most soft drinks also contain caffeine. Caffeine can cause headaches, upset stomach, jitteriness, and sleep problems. It’s also been associated with some behavioral problems and nervous system disorders.

In children, it doesn’t take much caffeine to produce effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine intake for kids of all ages.

The Behavior Problems Associated With Soft Drinks

If the health problems aren’t enough to dissuade parents from giving kids soda, the behavior problems associated with soft drinks might be a deterrent.

A 2013 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that aggression, withdrawal behavior, and attention problems are linked to soft drink consumption in young children.

The researchers assessed 2,929 5-year-old children from 20 different U.S. cities. Even after adjusting for factors such as maternal depression, paternal incarceration, and domestic violence, soft drink consumption was still linked to aggressive behavior.

Children who drank four or more soft drinks per day were more than twice as likely to destroy other people's belongings, get into fights, and physically attack people.

Potential Reasons for the Link Between Soft Drink and Aggression

It’s unclear why soda consumption was associated with more behavior problems. Soft drinks are highly processed, and there is not much research on how certain ingredients impact children. Some studies have linked aspartame to irritability and sodium benzoate to ADHD-related symptoms.

Caffeine has also been linked to some behavior problems in children, so researchers suspect the caffeine content may play a role.

An underlying physical condition, such as low blood glucose levels, could also explain the link. Low blood glucose may cause children to crave soda while also causing them to become withdrawn or aggressive.

The Dangers of Soft Drink Consumption and Older Children

Studies have also linked behavioral and emotional problems in teens to soft drink consumption. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion linked soft drink consumption to aggression, depression, and suicidal behavior in adolescents.

The more soda teens drank, the more likely they were to be in a physical fight. In addition, they were more likely to feel sad or hopeless and to report suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Could Your Child’s Behavior Stem From Soft Drinks?

If your child drinks soda, aggression and other negative behavior issues may be linked to their soft drink consumption.

Eliminating soda from your child’s diet may improve their behavior. In addition to better behavior, cutting out soda will have health benefits as well.

In addition to eliminating soft drinks, you may also want to prevent your child from consuming energy drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages children from drinking energy drinks. Many of them contain stimulants like guarana, as well as massive amounts of caffeine.

If your child is aggressive, eliminating soft drinks could be one step in a comprehensive behavior management plan. Your child may need to learn new skills, such as impulse control and conflict resolution.

Negative consequences, like time-out and restitution, can reduce aggressive behavior. But, consequences and discipline need to be consistent.

Reward systems and praise can also be healthy ways to promote prosocial behavior. Token economy systems can be especially effective in reducing aggressive behavior.

If you’re struggling to manage your child’s aggression, or your discipline strategies aren’t working, talk to your child’s doctor. Your child’s pediatrician may assess them for behavior disorders or mental health issues, and you may be referred to a professional who can help you find the most effective discipline strategies to manage your child’s behavior.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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