If children are picky eaters, limiting sweet drinks is especially wise. Sweets tend to kill an appetite dead. Ask any parent who is feeding a young child: As soon as you offer juice during the meal, it's over.
Overconsumption of juice has even been linked to being underweight and failure-to-thrive in some studies, although other studies have not shown this.
The best advice, however, is to evaluate your child. Any child who is over- or underweight should have a dietary evaluation and the consumption of all sweet beverages should be part of the workup.
Big research studies often look at large populations, but specific cases should be addressed individually. It is sometimes worthwhile to place some healthy limits on all sweetened beverages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says juice can be a good way for kids to get some of the fruit they need -- but only about half of it. They really set some limits on the amount of juice kids should be drinking:
Ages 1-6 years: 4 to 6 ounces daily
Ages 7-18 years: 8 to 12 ounces daily
For kids under 6 months, skip the juice thing entirely
Juice in cups only, not bottles
One thing that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck is seeing kids take juice from a bottle. Not a good idea, especially when kids are old enough to be transitioning off a bottle and onto drinking from a cup.
Bottles are easy for kids to carry around with them, allowing their teeth constant exposure to naturally sweet, acidic liquid throughout the day. This kind of parenting could make a dentist rich. The (AAP) discourages this, and its advice is spot on.
As a final note, most kids aren't overconsuming juice, but there are plenty who are. Parents would do well to remember that no child needs more than the above amount of juice but most kids do need to eat more fresh fruit. If you drink juice, eat an equal amount of whole fruits -- and have a glass of water if you're thirsty.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.