“They don’t need juice, but if they’re going to drink it, they should drink it in limited amounts,” Harris said.
But most single-serving 100% juice boxes and pouches contain more than 4 ounces, exceeding the recommended daily amount for toddlers, researchers found.
And some juice boxes and pouches even exceeded the 6-ounce serving recommended for preschoolers.
“We found a very small number of products that would be appropriate for a child under 3,” Harris said. “Most of the juice boxes and pouches are bigger than a toddler should be drinking.”
Experts recommend that children over a year old drink only plain water or milk, she said.
“They don’t need any other kind of drinks,” Harris said. “If you’re going to give them juice, look for 100% juice in small servings.”
Packaging often confuses rather than enlightens. Brands offering both sweetened drinks and drinks without added sweeteners often used similar-looking packages, flavor names and fruit images, researchers said.
For example, about 85% of sweetened drinks contained images of fruit on their packaging, but only 35% contained any juice at all, researchers said.
Parents have to look closely to figure out exactly what a drink contains, Harris said.
“You can’t trust the front of the packages to know what’s inside the drinks,” she said. “You have to look at the Nutrition Facts panel to see what ingredients are in there.”
Sweetened drinks are marketed heavily to children, the researchers also found.
Children between 2 and 11 see more than twice as many ads for sweetened drinks as for healthier alternatives, researchers said. These kids also see four times as many ads for sweetened drinks than their parents do.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) responded to the study in a statement.
“America’s beverage companies agree that it’s important for families to moderate sugar consumption to ensure a balanced, healthy lifestyle, and this is especially true for young children,” the statement said.
“Our companies strictly follow guidelines established by independent monitors that limit the marketing of beverages to children to 100% juice, water or dairy-based beverages and monitor TV, radio and digital advertising to confirm compliance,” the ABA added.