I was never a fan of giving my kids juice when they were little. They never had it it when they were drinking from a bottle and by the time they were on to a sippy cup they only had a cup with breakfast. For the rest of the day it was water or milk. The more I read up on childhood obesity, the happier I am that I made that decision. Even now that they are 7 and 9 years old, they have a cup of juice with breakfast and a small juice box with lunch (only at school, at home they have skim milk).
According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for 2010, childhood obesity is up from 4% in the 70's to 20% in 2007-2008. They attribute much of this increase to sweetened drinks. Yikes! Juice is a problem because its full of calories (110 per 8oz serving) and the little ones get filled up sipping on juice and don't have much of an appetite for real food. The older kids don't get full from the juice but chances are they're drinking a lot more than 8oz at a time, and that's a lot of extra calories. If you were to eat an orange instead, you would get about half the calories and feel more full.
I think it is wise to get your kids off the juice and get them used to drinking water. I did a little comparing on some dietary websites and found two major brands of juice (Juicy Juice and Minute Maid) each had 110 calories for an 8 oz serving, 26 sugars and no fiber. If you gave your kid a cup of chopped apple they would get 65 calories only 13 sugars and 3 grams of fiber. Which looks better to you? Grape juice is even worse. 8oz of unsweetened grape juice has 152 calories 36 sugar and 1 gram of fiber (about as much as coke but with some healthier properties of course). These numbers are much improved (62 cal, 15 sugar, 1 gram fiber) by eating a cup of grapes.
Soda of course is another problem. In our house, its a special occasion beverage. The kids can have a can of soda (one) if we're having a party, or entertaining. Once in a great while they have it with pizza for dinner. (Milk with pizza is way under rated if you ask me, I think they go great together!) A regular coke has 140 calories and 39 sugars. The grape and orange soda's that kids love are even worse. If you were to drink one regular soda a day for a year, you'd be looking at 15 extra pounds! No thank you.
So then there's the question of diet soda. No calories, no sugar, not bad for you? Not so much. Apparently artificial sweeteners cause hormonal responses that can stimulate appetite and increase cravings for carbs. Great. The American Heart Association has shown a correlation between diet soft drink consumption and obesity or factors that lead to obesity.
So what can we take away from it all? Juice and soda are just not worth it. If your kids get hooked now its harder to deal with later. As the grown ups in the house, it's up to us to keep these out of the fridge/pantry. So lead by example and cut the sweetend drinks out. It's a simple change that can go a long way.