(CBS News) -- Studies of young soda drinkers often focus on added risk for childhood obesity. But now, a new study suggests the sweet stuff could actually be making kids more violent.
Public health researchers looked at thousands of 5-year-olds, and found the more sugary soft drinks they consumed, the more likely they were to inflict damage and hurt others.
"We found a significant relation with soda consumption with the overall measure of aggression and with the three specific behaviors we felt were most indicative of aggression: destroying things belonging to others, getting into fights and physically attacking people," wrote the authors, led by researcher Dr. Shakira Suglia, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, said in a written statement.
For the study, researchers at Columbia University, Harvard and the University of Vermont analyzed about 3,000 kids -- mostly black and Hispanic children -- from 20 large U.S. cities. They had been enrolled in a study that followed them since birth, in which moms were given surveys about their child's behavior.
More than 40 percent of the children had at least one soft drink per day, while only 4 percent consumed four or more.
But, the more soda kids drank, the more problems with attention, aggression and withdrawn behaviors were reported.
Even after ruling out other factors that could influence violent behavior -- like family income, where kids lived, how much candy they ate, whether they grew up in a violent home or if mom was depressed, or dad was in jail -- the researchers still linked soda consumption to increases in aggressive behavior.
Kids who drank four or more soft drinks per day were found to be twice as likely to destroy other people's property, get into fights and physically hit others.
The study only found an association between soda and violence and children, and did not prove cause and effect. The researchers also added that the findings may not be generalized to all American 5-year-olds given the limited research pool.
But, they theorized the behavioral woes could be the result of some of soda's ingredients, such as caffeine, which has been linked to poor sleep, depression and impulsivity.
"Soft drinks are highly processed products containing carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sodium benzoate, phosphoric or citric acid, and often caffeine, any of which might affect behavior," they wrote.
They said that limiting or eliminating soft drinks from kids' diets could reduce their behavioral problems.
"Furthermore, if they're drinking this much soda, it's probably taking away from other nutritional things the child could be eating," Suglia added to Reuters.
The researchers pointed out that Americans buy more soda per capita than any other people in the world.
The study was published Aug. 16 in The Journal of Pediatrics, and was funded by the government's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Previous research has linked sugar consumption - specifically candy - to increased risk for violence later in life.
Public health advocates have long been warning that young kids who consume sugary drinks may be at higher risk for obesity or related conditions like diabetes. A study released this month in Pediatrics that also looked at 5-year-olds found those who consumed sugary drinks daily were 1.5 times more likely to be obese than those who didn't.
The beverage industry disputed that study's findings, along with the new research.
"It is a leap to suggest that drinking soda causes these or any other behavioral issue," the American Beverage Association said in a statement. "The science does not support that conclusion."