Preschoolers from low-income areas drink less milk and consume more fruit juice, which, like soda, is linked to rising sugar intake associated with childhood obesity.  Credit: Reuters

Preschool kids from low income families have more unhealthy soda drinks and consume very little milk, necessary for the development of the child. University of Alberta researchers came to the conclusion after studying the dietary habits of 1,800 preschoolers.

"If you're drinking a lot of soda and fruit juice, that can displace consumption of water and milk, which are important not just for quenching thirst, but for developing healthy bones and teeth, and health and wellness in general," said KateStorey, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the School of Public Health.

Researchers found that 54.5 per cent of the preschoolers aged between 4 and 5 from low income families drank at least one soda per week compared to the kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Preschoolers from low-income areas also drank less milk and consumed more fruit juice, which, like soda, is linked to rising sugar intake associated with childhood obesity.

"When you're looking at that age group, and such a large percentage of very young kids in the study are consuming a large amount of soda, it's quite concerning," said Storey.

Researchers also found that children from low economic background watch TV or played video games for more than two hours, according to the findings published in Public Health Nutrition and the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.

"Dietary behaviour and intake patterns are influenced heavily by what happens in the first few years with children, and they maintain those patterns throughout childhood and into adolescence. In addition to basic health education, this study identifies a need in how we're dealing with poverty and recognising there's more to poverty than simply the number of dollars people have. Many families live in places that might not be very healthy for them and, as a result, they make unhealthy food choices," said John C Spence, associate dean of research in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

The study found that only 30 per cent of children consumed enough fruits and vegetables and around 23.5 per cent consumed the recommended amount of servings of grain products. However, the same problem did not exist with milk and meat or alternatives- respective 91 per cent and 94 per cent of kids ate the recommended servings.

Researchers claim that one reason why most people from low income eat high calorie food is because it is cheap and convenient to buy.

"There are cities in North America where, literally, you have food deserts. If you wanted to go out and buy some lettuce and tomatoes, you'd have to travel very far, very likely without a car. You're not going to do that every time you want to get some food, so maybe you're going to resort to the convenience store down the road," said Spence.