A new study published this week in the journal Obesity has found that drinking 100% fruit juice is associated with significant weight gain in both children and adults over time. The findings add to growing evidence that despite being perceived as healthy, fruit juices may contribute to obesity risk when consumed regularly.
Study Finds BMI Increases in Kids and Adults Who Drink Fruit Juice Daily
Researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed data from over 9,000 children ages 2-9 and over 25,000 adults aged 20 and over who were part of the Canadian Community Health Survey from 2004 to 2015. Participants self-reported the frequency of their 100% fruit juice consumption.
The study found that drinking 100% fruit juice daily was linked to increased body mass index (BMI) gains over time in both kids and adults compared to those who did not consume fruit juice regularly.
Specifically, in children aged 2-6, daily fruit juice consumption was associated with a BMI gain of 0.7 kg/m2 over 4 years. For context, the average healthy BMI is about 15-16 kg/m2 for this age group.
In older children aged 7-9 as well as adults, daily fruit juice drinking was linked to about a 0.3 higher BMI gain over 4 years.
This translates to about 2.4 pounds of extra weight gain for an average height 7 year-old, and 8.5 pounds for an average height adult.
“Our findings suggest that drinking 100% fruit juice daily is associated with weight gain in children and adults,” said lead study author Dr. Sonia Anand, professor of medicine at University of Toronto.
Why Fruit Juice May Promote Weight Gain
Fruit juices have high natural sugar content without the fiber found in whole fruits. For example:
|8 oz Serving
“Even though fruit juice has beneficial vitamins and minerals, the high sugar and low fiber content can lead to excessive calorie intake and weight gain over time,” said Dr. Anand.
The fructose sugar in fruit juices is processed by the liver, which can drive fat accumulation. Additionally, the lack of fiber does not promote fullness like solid whole fruits.
“This study adds to growing evidence that limiting fruit juice intake may be important for weight management and obesity prevention,” said Dr. Anand.
Pediatricians Advise Limiting Fruit Juice Intake for Kids
Major health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend limiting fruit juice intake to 4-6 oz per day at most for children under 7 due to obesity and tooth decay concerns. The AAP suggests whole fruits over juice.
“While 100% fruit juice does contain beneficial nutrients like vitamin C and potassium, pediatricians emphasize moderation because excessive fruit juice can contribute extra calories and sugar leading to unhealthy weight gain over time,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, MD and AAP spokeswoman.
“We suggest limiting juice to half a cup a day for young kids, and ideally focusing on whole fruits which provide more fiber and chewing resistance for less calorie intake,” said Dr. Muth.
Study Adds to Debate Over Role of Fruit Juice in Diets
The new Canadian findings contribute to an ongoing debate about the appropriate place for fruit juices in a healthy diet.
While juices are often perceived as nutritious, their high natural sugar and lack of fiber may promote overconsumption and weight gain over time – especially when consumed daily.
“This study challenges the concept that fruit juice is an appropriate substitute for the whole fruit in the diet,” writes Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at University of California San Francisco who was not involved in the research.
Still, some nutrition experts believe fruit juice in moderation can be part of a balanced diet.
“I think we can find a healthy compromise where kids can still enjoy small amounts of 100% fruit juice while emphasizing whole fruit options and water most of the time,” says Jessica Crandall, Denver-based RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that routine and excessive fruit juice consumption may have unintended health consequences over time. More research is needed to continue clarifying optimal juice intake recommendations.
Next Steps: Additional Guidance Expected
The publication of this study is expected to trigger an evaluation of official fruit juice intake guidelines for kids and adults.
“With mounting evidence linking daily fruit juice to increased obesity risk, I think it’s likely we could see further limitations on fruit juice recommendations for children and adults from policy groups,” said Dr. Frank Greer, former chairperson of the AAP nutrition committee.
The finding may also lead to changes in nutrition labeling law. Current FDA regulations allow fruit juice products to carry claims suggesting health benefits and nutritional equivalence to whole fruits.
Moving forward, policy makers will have to weigh both the risks and benefits to determine appropriate dietary guidance regarding fruit juice consumption across age groups. More longitudinal research is needed to continue assessing optimal intake recommendations.
In the meantime, experts suggest focusing on whole fruits and limiting juice portions based on age. Water and milk are preferable drink options for daily consumption.
“While occasional small juice servings can fit into healthy diets, routine and excessive juice intake appears to contribute to unhealthy weight gain over time, especially in kids,” concluded Dr. Anand. “Our findings support national guidelines advising limited fruit juice consumption for children.”
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