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FOR RELEASE: May 17, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

High Intakes of Fruit Juice Not Healthy for Young Children

High intakes of fruit juice are associated with growth problems and tooth decay. The use or “misuse” of fruit juice can have detrimental effects for infants and young children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). Children can have too much of a good thing and fruit juice, like any other food, becomes a problem when consumed in excessive amounts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) considers children ages 1 to 5 nutritionally at risk, if they routinely consume 12 or more fluid ounces of fruit juice a day.

Fruit juice has historically been considered healthy by parents and health care professionals because it provides a source of vitamin C and extra fluids in a child's diet. Even though fruit juice does contain essential nutrients, children don't need several glasses a day to meet nutritional requirements. AAP and OSDH recommend the following guidelines:

  • Juice tastes good so children often prefer it instead of plain water. Offering plenty of plain water between meals and snacks is a good way to teach children that everything doesn't have to taste sweet. Over time, they may begin to prefer water to juice, especially if parents are drinking water, too.
  • Juice is often given to infants and toddlers in bottles. Since juice (and milk) contains a natural sugar, the constant contact of the sugary substance with the teeth can result in dental caries. The most damage occurs when children are allowed to go to sleep with a bottle filled with juice or milk.
  • Juice can interfere with growth. Growth rate slows after about 12 months of age resulting in a natural decrease in appetite. Decreased appetite means that children are less interested in eating and may want to “drink” their way through the day. Juice contains about 60 calories per 6 fluid ounces. Sixty calories provided frequently throughout the day may ruin their appetite at meals and snacks. Without all essential nutrients found in a variety of food, normal growth cannot be maintained. Children may begin to gain weight slowly and become underweight.
  • On the other hand, some children will not only drink juice throughout the day but eat regular meals and snacks, too. The result is too many calories and the child may experience a higher than normal rate of weight gain, eventually becoming overweight.
  • Beware of words like “fruit beverage” or “fruit punch.” Parents should check the ingredient list on juice labels before purchasing juice products. Many times these products are made up of sugar and water with a little fruit juice or fruit flavoring added. Words on the ingredient list such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose are just fancy words for sugar. Unless the label says that the product is 100 percent fruit juice, it isn't.
  • Look for juices that provide 100 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C. We can't store or make vitamin C in our bodies so we need a good food source daily. Some juices, like orange juice, naturally contain vitamin C but many do not. Unfortified apple juice, for example, contains almost no vitamin C. Natural grape juice is also a poor source of vitamin C. A word of caution when choosing juice for infants. It is important not to give citrus juices (or fruits) to children less than 12 months of age because they may cause allergic reactions.
  • Provide vitamin C from other food sources in your child's diet. Children don't need fruit juice to meet vitamin C requirements. We all need lots of fruits and vegetables every day. Children need at least 2 servings of fruit per day and at least 3 servings of vegetables. Include at least one good sources of vitamin C containing fruits or vegetables like strawberries, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe, red and green bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Health officials advise that parents limit fruit juice intake for young children to 12 fluid ounces a day or less, and offer more plain water. Be patient because eating and drinking behaviors change gradually.

For more information about the nutritional needs of young children, contact the nutritionist at your local county health department.

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