Drinking a sugary drink before lunch may not be as bad for children as parents assume, a researcher says.

In a recent study, children ate less food for lunch if they drank a sugared drink but selected fewer cookies and soft drinks and more cold cuts, bread and other foods than children who did not have sugar beforehand."The study shows there's not an unlimited appetite for sugar. The body becomes satisfied," said Harvey Anderson, chairman of the nutrition department at the University of Toronto School of Medicine.

"The more calories the children ate before lunch, the less calories they ate at lunch," even though they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, said Anderson, who presented the study at a symposium on nutrition research in Toronto. The research has yet to be published.

It is more important to consider what a child eats over the course of a whole day than for one meal, said Dr. Ronald Kleinman of Massachusetts General Hospital, who is chairman of the committee on nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"There's not very much information about whether having a snack during the day, an hour or two before a meal, really makes a difference in what somebody eats in their meal," said Kleinman, who said he was not familiar with Anderson's study.

There is a need, however, for research into children's eating patterns, he said.

Some studies have shown benefits of afternoon snacks for children who play sports. Several also have been conducted on the effects of breakfast on performance in schools, with contradictory results, Kleinman said.

Anderson and his colleagues studied normal-weight children, 10 boys and 10 girls, ages 9 and 10. At 11:30 a.m, the children were given either 8 ounces of unsweetened Kool-Aid, or the drink sweetened with 1.5 ounces or 3 ounces of sugar.

Each child was his or her own control in the research, depending on which drink was given on a particular day.

"We then sent the kids to `heaven' at 12 noon by giving them a choice of all the cookies they could eat, all the pop, cake. We also gave them bread, cold cuts, fruit and milk - the range of foods, but all in excess," Anderson said.

Children who had the sugared drink ate almost no sweets at lunch, he said. Those who had the drink without sugar chose a quarter of their lunch calories from cookies and soft drinks, Anderson said.

The children ate about 900 calories, including any calories in the soft drink, Anderson said.

Anderson hopes to look at whether children who have a tendency toward obesity also reach a satiation point with sugar. "Are they responding in the same way physiologically in terms of sugar load?"

Anderson said he is not recommending that parents give children sugar before meals, "though it is encouraging for parents that a little sugar will do no harm" to normal children.

In addition to eating and drinking, the children in Anderson's study played during the research. They were not told what was being studied.

Anderson said the children did not react against drinking unsweetened Kool-Aid. "They'd just drink it down quickly - they wanted to get on and play," he said.