Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

Choline - A Neglected Nutrient Vital for Healthy Brains - BOOK HERE

Frequent Soft Drink Consumption May Make Adolescents More Aggressive

University of Alabama at Birmingham

soft drinks

Could reducing soda consumption during adolescence help curb aggressive behaviors?


Despite the headline, the design of this study can't provide direct evidence of cause and effect, as it is 'observational', rather than a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  (Of course - as with so many important questions about nutrition and human behaviour - such trials simply can't be done, for ethical and/or practical reasons.)

Results showed that higher soft drink consumption in children and adolescents' is associated with more aggressive behaviour - supporting those from many previous studies. 

Importantly, however, these researchers also studied the same children over time - at 11, 13 and 16 years of age - as finding out 'which came first' is a key issue in determining the potential direction of causality whenever two things 'go together'.

Analyses showed that higher soft drink consumption at ages 11 and 13 predicted aggressive behaviour at each of the next time-points.
But more aggressive behaviour at age 13 also predicted higher soft drink consumption at age 16 (i.e. for this time period, the predictions worked both ways)

These findings support the idea that soft drink consumption may actually promote aggressive behaviour - but also indicate that these two things may also reinforce each other - as the researchers acknowldge.

There was no such clear pattern for depressive symptoms. These did not predict soft drink consumption; and higher consumption of soft drinks at 13 actually predicted fewer depressive symptoms at age 16.

For the related research article please see:

For further information on this topic please see:
25/08/2020 - NeuroScience

A study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has shown that frequent soft drink consumption by adolescents may contribute to aggressive behavior over time.

Previous studies have shown associations between soft drink consumption and mental health problems in adolescents. The UAB study, led by Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., professor and chair of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology, identified soft drink consumption as a likely predictor of aggressive behavior. It was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Despite public health policies designed to reduce children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda taxes and school soda bans, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by youth in the United States remains a significant public health problem,” Mrug said.
Reciprocal relationships were analyzed showing soft drink consumption predicted an increase in aggressive behavior over time.

Soft drink consumption at ages 11 and 13 predicted more aggressive behavior at the next time point, the study showed. Aggressive behavior at age 13 also predicted more soft drink consumption at age 16. Soft drink consumption at age 13 predicted fewer depressive symptoms, but depressive symptoms did not predict soft drink consumption. Findings from this study suggest that reducing adolescents’ intake of soft drinks may reduce aggressive behavior, but not depressive symptoms.

Interviews with 5,147 children and their caregivers were conducted from three sites, at child ages 11, 13 and 16. At each time, the children reported on their frequency of consuming soft drinks, aggressive behavior and depressive symptoms.

Soft drinks comprise more than 10 percent of adolescents’ total caloric intake and are consumed daily by more than 20 percent of high school students, according to recent reports. High rates of soda consumption among U.S. youth have led to concerns about its impact on pediatric obesity and related health conditions. Besides obesity, concerns have been raised about the potential impact of soft drink consumption on pediatric mental health, particularly for adolescents who consume more soft drinks and experience more emotional and behavioral problems than younger children.
“Paralleling the historical trends of increasing soft drink consumption, emotional problems in adolescents have risen between 1980s and early 2000s,” Mrug said. “For example, several studies reported 70 percent to 350 percent increases in emotional problems among adolescent boys and girls in developed countries during this time period.”

A number of studies have linked the consumption of soft drinks to adolescents’ mental health problems.

Specifically, more frequent consumption of soft drinks has been associated with more aggression, other behavior problems such as hyperactivity and oppositional behavior, and depression and suicidal behavior in adolescents from the United States, Norway, Slovakia, Iran and China. Another recent cross-national study found a consistent association between adolescents’ high sugar consumption (from soft drinks and sweets) and fighting, bullying and substance use in 24 of the studied 26 countries.

All of these studies have included statistical adjustments for a variety of potential confounders such as child age, gender, BMI, physical activity, diet, substance use and family factors; but the key limitation remains the cross-sectional design.

Although the results are typically interpreted in terms of soft drinks’ contributing to emotional and behavioral problems, it is equally likely that mental health problems may be driving the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, Mrug says. Experimental studies show that some individuals consume more sugary foods in response to stress and negative emotions.