Children who drink fruit juice have a lower risk of obesity in adult life

Joyful small boy (4-5 years) drinking fresh juice throw plastic straw. Happy preschool boy holding glass of orange juice with a plastic drinking straw.
Drinking pure fruit juice as a child could limit obesity risk as an adult. (Getty Images) (Liubov Isaeva via Getty Images)

Fruit juice has long been debated by experts on its health benefits thanks to the abundance of sugars found in the drink. However, a new study has found that drinking fruit juice as a child could limit your risk of obesity as an adult.

The research from Swansea University followed 14,000 children from birth to adulthood found that kids who drank pure apple juice were more likely to consume fish, fruit, green vegetables, and salads.

Comparatively, who drank fizzy drinks such as cola were more likely to eat burgers, fries, sausages, pizza, meat, sweets, and chocolate.

Specifically, the study found that having fizzy drinks like cola or sugar-sweetened fruit cordials before the age of two makes you more predisposed to weight gain in your 20s, while kids who drank fruit juice were more likely to have healthy diets.

Kids ages three who drank cola were more likely to consume a higher amount of calories, fat, protein, and sugar, but less fibre than those who drank apple juice at the same age.

"The early diet establishes a food pattern that influences, throughout life, whether weight increases," lead researcher Professor David Benton said.

"The important challenge is to ensure that a child develops a good dietary habit: one that offers less fat and sugar, although pure fruit juice, one of your five a day, adds vitamin C, potassium, folate, and plant polyphenols."

The team also saw a link between sugar-sweetened drinks and social deprivation, as children from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to have access to pure fruit juice.

Low angle close up of kids holding glasses with orange juice against blue sky outdoors, copy space
Pure fruit juice has been linked to healthier eating habits. (Getty Images) (SeventyFour via Getty Images)

"Obesity is a serious health concern, one that increases the risk of many other conditions," study author Dr Hayley Young added. "Our study shows that the dietary causes of adult obesity begin in early childhood and that if we are to control it, more attention needs to be given to our diet in the first years of life."

However, if you are considering buying fruit juice for your child or children, there are a few things you need to look out for.

Children's Nutritionist for Biotiful Gut Health, Lucy Upton tells Yahoo UK that, ideally, you should be choosing a fruit juice option with no added sugar, syrups, or sweeteners. In other words, it should be 100% fruit juice.

"There can be significant differences in the sugar content of juices, so checking the labels can be helpful," Upton explains.

"Be careful of sugar sweetened drinks that use descriptions like juice, for example, ‘juice drinks’, which actually have very low percent fruit juice added and often high levels of added sugars."

Where possible, Upton says you should opt for fresh-pressed juices as these tend to be slightly lower in sugars than fruit juices from concentrate.

"In terms of nutritional benefits, most fruit juices, regardless of the type of fruit it is, can be good sources of nutrients like Vitamin C," she adds.

Upton says that juice isn’t usually recommended for children under five years of age, and that it should be diluted for children – ideally one part juice to 10 parts water.

"I wouldn't recommend that fruit juice is given at all to children under one," Upton adds. "For those over five, it's recommended that they have no more than 150mls per day, and ideally with a meal to help avoid tooth decay."

Little girl girl drinking grapefruit juice  at home. Ulsan, South Korea.
Children shouldn't be given fruit juice until after the age of five. (Getty Images) (Insung Jeon via Getty Images)

In terms of other beverages, such as cordials or fizzy drinks, Upton says parents should lead by example to help their kids develop a healthy relationship with these drinks.

"Leading by example at home can be important here, so avoiding others regularly consuming these in the house around children," she says.

"If children are offered these drinks when out, such as at parties or eating out, then keeping language and behaviour around these drinks neutral [is key]."

By this, Upton means that parents should avoid labelling these drinks as ‘treats’ or ‘special’ as this can help to reduce their appeal.

She continues: "Additionally, supporting children to explore different palatable drinks that are lower in sugar and that also have potential health benefits, for example on gut health, such as kefir can be a helpful consideration."

Additional reporting by SWNS.