How sugar affects children

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In today’s modern western world sweet treats are less of a treat and more common place for many children, unfortunately, setting them up for potential health problems now and later in life. Some of these potential issues include:

  • Mood, concentration and behavior changes – As many parents or teachers can attest, high sugar intake leads to a clear change in the behavior of children. Eating too much sugar can cause blood sugar levels to quickly rise and just as quickly fall, leaving kids feeling tired, grumpy and unable to concentrate.1
  • Tooth decay – Sugar is one of the leading causes of tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth use sugar from food and drink to produce acids that dissolve and damage teeth.2
  • Weight issues – Just like adults, kids gain weight when they take in more calories than they use up. Highly sweetened food is usually calorie-dense and doesn’t fill you up making it easy to overindulge.
  • Growth and development impact – Children who eat lots of sugar-filled foods may be forgoing healthy foods and therefore missing out on nutrients their bodies need to grow.
  • A recent study found that more than half of Australian children are consuming far too much sugar, especially the ‘added’ kind found in processed and packaged foods such as soft drink, confectionery, cordial, breakfast cereal, muesli bars and flavored yoghurt. Consumption appears to become progressively worse as children grow older, with teens reaching an average intake of 22 teaspoons per day.3 This is far higher than the recommended 3-4 teaspoons a day for children.4

Tips to reduce your child’s sugar intake include:

  • Limit fruit juice, soft drink and sports drinks. Offer water and vegetable juices instead. If your child is having a fruit juice, ensure it’s diluted with water, effectively reducing how much sugar in consumed.
  • Swap sugary treats with healthy alternatives such as protein balls, fresh fruit, raw nuts and seeds, savoury muffins, vegetable sticks with almond butter or hummus, and fructose-free muesli bars.
  • Choose breakfast cereals carefully. Look for ones that contain less than 3% sugar or try fruit-free muesli.
  • Look out for hidden sugars in every day foods. Choose plain yoghurt rather than flavored, and sweeten with fresh fruit.
  • Enhance food with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg or use natural vanilla extract instead of adding sugar.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar called for in recipes by a third when baking.

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Published January 22, 2015
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