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Health Briefs: Defiant Kids and Soda

  • Rose Hoban

Defiance in small children might actually be a good thing, and drinking soda increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes - even when the soda is sugar free.

Defiance In Small Children Might Be A Good Thing: One of the most difficult aspects of childrearing can be dealing with an unruly or defiant child. Many are familiar with what American parents call the 'terrible twos' -- a phase after their second birthday when children battle their parents, throw tantrums and learn the power of the word 'no.' This can be a stressful time for parents and other family members. But new research indicates that defiance in a child could actually be a good thing.

University of Texas psychology professor Ted Dix brought more than 100 mothers into his lab with their children - who averaged 20 months of age - and videotaped their interactions. He says they set up two different situations with the children.

“One is we set up four toys, and we asked the mothers not to allow their child to play with those toys. So these are the forbidden toys. And then at the end of the play period, we asked mothers to see if they could get their children to help them clean up the playroom and put the toys back in the box that they came in. So we watch how do children, one and young two-year old children respond when you ask them to put those toys away, that they tend to want to play with rather than clean up, and how they react when you ask them to stay away from the forbidden toys.”

Dix says he found that mothers who were sensitive to their children's needs and who played interactively with them with the other toys in the room tended to have children who frequently resisted the mothers' control.

Conversely, Dix says mothers who didn't interact with their children as much and displayed signs of being depressed had children who defied them less frequently.

It seems that being an involved parent leads to an undesirable outcome, but Dix says that's not the case.

“I think we have to start with a premise that it's good for children to have confidence and to take initiative � And one of the ways they develop this tendency to engage the world fully and take initiative is to be in a context in which they have control over things and where their control of the world pays off. I think sensitive mothers provide them with this environment.”

And, no matter what parents do, Dix notes, most defiant children grow out of their resistance by the time they're three years old or so.

“There are parents who find this very comforting message, that when their kid is being highly defiant and very difficult to control, that's not necessarily all bad. It's difficult, it's stressful. But in terms of what it implies for the child's development, it doesn't imply that there's a problem.”

Dix's research is published in the journal Child Development.

Soda Increases Risk of Developing Heart Disease and Diabetes: Soda is one of the world's most popular beverages - many people drink more soda than anything else, and in many countries, consumption of carbonated soft drinks has steadily increased over the past two decades. Now, there's plenty of evidence the sugary liquid is contributing to growing waistlines around the world.

Harvard medical professor Ravi Dingra was part of a team that looked at data from thousands of middle-aged people who are part of a large, long-term study of cardiovascular disease. He says that subjects who drank as little as one soda per day were at increased risk for metabolic syndrome. That's a cluster of conditions that includes increased serum fat and sugar, increased blood pressure, a decrease in so-called good cholesterol� and a larger waistline.

“Most of the people who have metabolic syndrome have a very high risk of developing heart disease, they also have high risk of developing diabetes. Because of obesity, rising obesity and rising diabetes� is something very prevalence nowadays in America.”

It's no surprise that sodas sweetened with high fructose corn syrup increased people's weight. But Dingra says that surprisingly, soda drinkers were at increased risk for metabolic syndrome, regardless of whether the soda contained a high- or low-calorie sweetener.

“We did not find any difference whether the high fructose corn syrup is present in the soda or not. It was strongly associated with metabolic syndrome.”

Dingra says they're not sure why artificially sweetened sodas contributed to the development of metabolic syndrome, but there are several theories:

“One is that you probably are conditioning yourself to the sweetened products -- so you're eating more of these sweet products if you are drinking more soda. Secondly, there is a caramel coloring agent in soft drinks, which is known to increase insulin resistance in the body, which subsequently increases diabetes and causes obesity. And third, there is a chance that a lot of people who drank a lot of excess of these soft drinks, they also eat unhealthy.”

Dingra notes that this study simply reports an observation made in all of the subjects. He says he'd like to study the same phenomenon in another sample of people and see if there's any way to learn if diet soda actually causes an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

His research is published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

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