December 15, 2015

Drinking sugary drinks linked to early puberty, which can lead to later health concerns.


We know soda is bad for us, but now there’s one more important reason Tennessee parents shouldn’t keep it in the fridge. Girls who guzzle sugary drinks may start their periods earlier than those who drink them less often. Earlier puberty can have both mental and physical consequences that can appear in adolescence or adulthood.


What are the details of the study?

A Harvard study followed nearly 5,600 girls who hadn’t started menstruating. The girls (ages 9 to 14) filled out questionnaires about how often they drank sweetened drinks (not natural fruit juice, just beverages with added sugar). The girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of sweetened drinks per day started their periods on average 2.7 months earlier than girls who drank fewer than two servings a week. Researchers found that the girls who drank the most sugary drinks started their periods on average at age 12.8, whereas those who drank the least started their periods on average at age 13.

The study does not prove consuming sugary drinks causes earlier puberty; however, researchers have found a connection. “In this study, consumption of sugary drinks was associated with increased BMI (Body Mass Index) and earlier puberty,” says Ashley Shoemaker, M.D. Shoemaker is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Ian M. Burr Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “The increase in BMI was an intermediary for the early puberty, meaning that sugary drinks may cause excess weight gain, which may in turn cause earlier puberty.”


Why is earlier puberty a concern?

A couple months’ difference might not sound like a reason to pour the soda down the drain. Remember, though, that is an average that was “statistically significant,” or great enough not be by chance. For some girls, the difference would have been greater. Earlier puberty has been linked to adolescent depression, earlier sexual activity and even breast cancer later in life.


What’s the bigger worry?

Doctors say all family members should strive to make healthier choices, not just young girls. Childhood obesity certainly affects both boys and girls. “As endocrinologists, we recommend that all of our patients avoid sugary drinks,” Shoemaker explains. “In Tennessee, a third of children are overweight or obese, and sugary beverages are full of empty calories.”


What should parents do?

“Rather than worrying about pubertal timing,” Shoemaker says, “parents should focus on preventing excess weight gain through a healthy diet that is low in added sugars.”


Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt offers a wealth of information about children’s health and wellness.