Attention, parents: You may want to limit your kids’ intake of fruit juice to avoid malnutrition, poor oral hygiene and other health challenges.
New recommendations released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise that infants under the age of 1 should avoid fruit juice altogether and that toddlers between the ages of 1 to 3 should limit their daily intake to no more than four ounces.
“Water and low-fat milk are much better choices for most children,” said Steven Abrams, M.D., Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. “We have to take a step back and realize that there are harmful consequences to children consuming large amounts of juice.”
Previously, the AAP’s guidelines called for no juice for children who were under 6 months of age and no more than six ounces of juice for children under the age of 4. But developing research, including obesity trends and dental problems, forced the pediatric health organization to revise its standards on consumption of sweet-tasting drinks.
“Fruit juice is marketed as a healthy, natural source of vitamins and, in some instances, calcium. Because juice tastes good, children readily accept it,” write the study authors in the journal Pediatrics.
Yet while fruit juice has some health benefits, it also carries “potential detrimental effects,” according to the study.
“High sugar content in juice contributes to increased calorie consumption and the risk of dental caries. In addition, the lack of protein and fiber in juice can predispose to inappropriate weight gain,” warn the authors, including Abrams.
“We couldn’t really see any reason why juice was still part of the potential recommendation for 6- to 12-month-old kids,” Abrams told CNN. “We recommend breastfeeding or formula in that age group, and there really isn’t any need or beneficial role for juice, so we kind of made that adjustment.”
The study authors caution that, among infants, “offering juice before solid foods are introduced into the diet could risk having juice replace human milk or infant formula in the diet, which can result in reduced intakes of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc.”
Recommended: Limits for Older Children, Too
In addition to the no-juice recommendation for children under 1, the revised guidelines seek to limit fruit juice consumption to no more than four ounces for children between 1 and 3 and no more than six ounces for those aged 4 to 7. Even for children over seven, the upper limit should be eight ounces per day, advises the study.
Part of the challenge is overcoming the perceived benefits of juice consumption, which the authors state is often oversold. “Because juice is viewed as nutritious, limits on consumption are not usually set by parents,” they write.
Yet the health benefits of fruit juice can pale in comparison to eating fresh fruit, and the high sugar composition of many juices — which comes without the beneficial fiber one gains when eating whole fruit — can lead to unhealthy outcomes. For example, “malnutrition and short stature in children have been associated with excessive consumption of juice,” report the study authors.
Just remember that moderation is key, remind the researchers, who say that “one-hundred percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet…when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about instilling good eating habits in kids,” Abrams said. “Establishing a healthy, balanced diet early in life is one of the best ways to ensure that kids grow up healthy and stay healthy as adults.”
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.