Drink Preschool children who regularly have sugary drinks tend to pack on more pounds than other youngsters, a large study of U.S. children suggests.

Researchers found that among the 2- to 5-year-olds they followed, those who routinely had sugar-sweetened drinks at age 5 were 43 percent more likely to beobese than their peers who rarely had those drinks.

In addition, 2-year-olds who downed at least one sugary drink a day gained moreweight over the next few years than their peers.

The results, reported online Aug. 5 and in the September print issue of the journalPediatrics, add to evidence tying sugar-laden drinks to excess pounds in older kids. And although the study cannot prove it’s the beverages causing the added weight, experts said parents should opt for water and milk to quench preschoolers’ thirst.

“We can’t say for sure that cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages would prevent excess weight gain,” said lead researcher Dr. Mark DeBoer, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

“[But] there are healthy sources of calories, and there are less healthy sources,” he said. “Sugar-sweetened beverages don’t have other nutritional benefits.”

Water, on the hand, is a sugar-free way for kids to hydrate. “And milk,” DeBoer said, “has vitamin D, protein and calcium.” Plus, he added, the protein and fat in milk make young children feel full, so they may eat less than they do when their diets are filled with sugary — but less satisfying — drinks.

Plenty of factors influence childhood obesity, including genes, overall diet andphysical activity, said Dr. Anisha Patel, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.

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