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The Surprising Reason Some Kids Drink More Soda

The Short of It

According to a new study from San Francisco State University, kids of separated or divorced families are more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) than children in families where the parents are married—which could set them up for weight problems when they're older.

The Lowdown

The study, published online in the journal Childhood Obesity, used a 5-day eating behavior questionnaire to analyze eating habits of parents and kids in both divorced and married families to see if marital status played a role in so-called "obesity risk behaviors" like drinking sugary beverages or not eating breakfast.

The results? Researchers found that the kids whose parents were separated or divorced were more likely to drink SSBs than the kids whose parents were married.

That makes sense to Jeff Cookston, the study's lead author and a professor and chair of psychology at SFSU. Grabbing a sweet drink like a soda can be an easy way for kids to deal with the stress of a divorce. Sugar-sweetened beverages "are quite pleasurable, and they're accessible," Cookston said in a news release. "The brain reacts with a great deal of enjoyment when we have a soda or energy drink. It also doesn't involve much thinking, except for the decision to purchase them or bring them into the house." The less disruptive the divorce, if family maintained their routines like eating together and still engaging in family activities, the less likely the kids were to drink sugary drinks.

The Upshot

Children of divorce aren't doomed to be overweight, of course—and Cookston and his colleagues found one simple thing played a positive role when it came to these kids' sugary-drink concumption: family routines. When divorced families continued to do things like eat dinner together, kids were less likely to reach for SSBs.

"When families separate, one of the things that is most impacted for kids is their day-to-day routines," Cookston said. "Children are looking for consistency in their family environment, and family routines provide that security and continuity."

We can all drink to that.

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