Unhealthy Food and Beverage Consumption in Children and Risk of Overweight and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). 2022

Plain language summary

Infants and children are consuming increasing amounts of foods with added sugars, high in salt, and high in saturated or trans fats. Commercially prepared foods are more likely to be high in energy, low in nutrients (energy dense, nutrient-poor), and ultra-processed. The aim of this study was to examine, in children aged ≤10.9 y, the risks of greater consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages compared with no or low consumption on overweight and obesity. This study is a systematic review and meta-analysis which included the summarized characterises of 71 articles from 60 included studies. Results indicate that in children aged ≤10.9 years, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy foods may increase body mass index, percentage body fat, or the odds of overweight/obesity (low to very-low certainty). Furthermore, there was little or no difference to body mass index, percentage body fat, or overweight/obesity outcomes (low certainty) after consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices. Authors conclude that policy recommendations are needed to address the growing burden of overweight and obesity that children are experiencing worldwide.


This WHO-commissioned review contributed to the update of complementary feeding recommendations, synthesizing evidence on effects of unhealthy food and beverage consumption in children on overweight and obesity. We searched PubMed (Medline), Cochrane CENTRAL and Embase for articles, irrespective of language or geography. Inclusion criteria were: 1) randomized controlled trials (RCTs); non-RCTs; cohort studies and pre/post studies with control; 2) participants ≤ 10.9 y at exposure; 3) studies reporting greater consumption of unhealthy foods/beverages vs. no or low consumption; 4) studies assessing anthropometric and/or body composition; and 5) publication date ≥ 1971. Unhealthy foods and beverages were defined using nutrient- and food-based approaches. Risk of bias was assessed using the ROBINS-I and RoB2 tools for non-randomized and randomized studies, respectively. Narrative synthesis was complemented by meta-analyses where appropriate. Certainty of evidence was assessed using GRADE. Of 26,542 identified citations, 60 studies from 71 articles were included. Most studies were observational (59/60), and no included studies were from low-income countries. The evidence base was low quality, as assessed by ROBINS-I and RoB2 tools. Evidence synthesis was limited by the different interventions and comparators across studies. Evidence indicated that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and unhealthy foods in childhood may increase body mass index (BMI)/BMI z-score, % body fat or odds of overweight/obesity (low certainty of evidence). Artificially-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice consumption may make little/no difference to BMI, % body fat or overweight/obesity outcomes (low certainty of evidence). Meta-analyses of a subset of studies indicated a positive association between SSB intake and % body fat, but no association with change in BMI and BMI z-score. High-quality epidemiological studies that are designed to assess the effects of unhealthy food consumption during childhood on risk of overweight/obesity are needed to contribute to a more robust evidence base upon which to design policy recommendations. This protocol was registered at https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO as CRD42020218109.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Structural
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Ultra-processed food
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article