Excessive sugar intake can have a range of adverse effects on kids’ well-being, from increasing their risk of obesity and high blood pressure to compromising their dental health and possibly even their ability to focus.
If your child has a sweet tooth, you may be concerned about their sugar intake. After all, sugar can contribute to a number of potentially serious health conditions, including Type II diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Additionally, there’s long been speculation that sugar can make children hyperactive or even contribute to their risk of developing ADHD.
The difficult truth is that most children are consuming more sugar than they should. The American Heart Association recommends that children between the ages of two and 18 should consume less than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day. Concerningly, a recent U.K. survey found that children consume an average of over 50 grams of added sugar every day — more than twice the recommended amount.
Here’s what sugar does to your child, and how your household can cut back on its sugar intake without taking the fun out of food.
The Problem with Sugar
In small doses, added sugar isn’t a huge problem. For instance, some studies have found that adding roughly a teaspoon of sugar to a whole grain cereal like oatmeal or wheat bran makes kids much more likely to eat it while having hardly any effect on their blood sugar.
Unfortunately, most kids eat far more than a teaspoon of sugar during any given meal or snack. Sugar hides everywhere: in breakfast cereals, fruit juices, white bread, and even pasta sauce. Despite its ubiquity, sugar contains very little nutritional value, yet is very high in calories.
Thus far, the scientific literature is split on whether sugar has a direct impact on ADHD, but the evidence against sugar is mounting. A recent study from the Yale School of Public Health found that for every sweetened drink teens consume each day, their risk of hyperactivity and inattention increases by 14%.
This result is consistent with the findings of a 2013 German study that found that children who struggled with inattention and hyperactivity drank more sugar-sweetened beverages than their peers. That said, because such beverages are often highly-caffeinated, it’s hard to parse which adverse effects are attributable to caffeine and which are attributable to sugar.
While the jury is still out on the connection between sugar and hyperactivity, the scientific evidence is clear on one thing: excessive sugar intake is linked to obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and cavities. Therefore, as a general rule, the more parents can reduce their children’s sugar intake, the better.
How to Help Your Child Quit Sugar
When people think “sugar,” they often think of desserts such as cake, ice cream, candy, and pudding. However, these sweet treats aren’t the primary culprits behind children’s rising sugar intake. Instead, sugary drinks and processed foods of all kinds are often to blame. One of the most effective ways to reduce one’s sugar intake is to focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods.
Packaged, jarred, and canned foods often come with a few grams of added sugar slipped in, even if the foods themselves aren’t sweet. If you need to get dinner on the table quickly and want to have some prepared foods on hand to speed things along, make sure to check the labels for added sugar — some brands add a great deal of sugar, while others add just a little or none at all.
If your children love a sweet treat after dinner, try swapping out a cookie for a mandarin orange or a handful of dried cranberries. Simple switches like these can drastically reduce your child’s sugar intake. Baked goods and other sugary desserts should be saved for birthdays, holidays, or other special occasions — that’ll make those days even more special, too!
If your child is overweight, suffers from Type II diabetes, or exhibits symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity, consider talking to a pediatrician at Kids’ Health. Our mission is to care for your child’s body and mind, and unfortunately, sugar can have a negative impact on both. If you want to discuss in-depth strategies for cutting your child’s sugar intake and starting them on the path to healthier habits, contact us today.