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The Erie County Department of Health recently issued a warning that sugary drinks help cause obesity.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest source of added sugar in the diets of children in the United States,” County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said in a news release. “In children and adolescents, consumption of SSBs is associated with weight gain and diabetes. The key is providing access to healthy choices.”

Food and beverages available in child care facilities and schools influence food choices of children. There is broad public support for schools, licensed child care centers and after-school programs to establish policies and practices that prohibit the sale and availability of sugar-sweetened beverages. Consider these facts:

• In New York State, 31 percent of all children between 2 and 17 years of age consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily, including one in four children between the ages of 2 and 5 years.

• Kids’ meals in fast-food restaurants represent a common source of SSBs for children and adolescents. In New York, nearly 40 percent of adults with children in the household report consuming fast food at least once a week

• A recent public opinion poll in the state found strong support for requiring restaurants to only offer healthier beverage choices, including water, milk or 100 percent fruit juice, with kids’ meals.

• Most adults in the state recognize that regular consumption of soda (87 percent) and fruit-flavored drinks (68 percent) is harmful for children ages 2 to 12 years old. However, only 41 percent of adults consider regular consumption of sports drinks to be harmful for children.

Sports-drink manufacturers market their products as a healthy alternative to soda for children, but they contain 5 to 8 teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce serving and 50 percent to 90 percent of the calories found in the same serving size of soda.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, water is the best drink choice for most children playing sports or engaged in active play.

Meanwhile, the Health Department and Western New York chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association have joined together to launch the Healthy Choices program, to provide local restaurant owners with the ability to determine the nutritional values of menu items. Restaurateurs will now be able to determine the exact nutritional value and caloric count of any menu item that they serve.

For more information, visit www2.erie.gov/health and search for “Healthy Choices.”