Soda, juice, candy, and cookies, OH MY! Yes, these are all foods kids love to eat and drink. However, these foods have something else in common: SUGAR and lots of it! A recent article published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association draws conclusions from various studies looking at the intake of sugary sweetened beverages and weight gain/obesity among children. The research shows children who regularly consume sugary beverages ranging from juice to soda are at an increased risk for gaining weight and becoming obese.1
America is currently in the middle of an obesity epidemic among adults as well as children. Statistics show that the number of 2-19 year old children suffering from being overweight or obese is nearly 17%. Obesity places children at increased risk for developing Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol at young ages. Additionally, the chances of these issues being carried into adulthood are staggering. There is an 80% chance that an obese adolescent will become an obese adult2, thus increasing the risk of developing all the co-morbidities that adults are currently facing from being obese.
How can you help your child? For starters, start decreasing the foods with added sugars from your child’s daily diet. Sugar adds calories to food and an increase in calorie intake can lead to weight gain. Children should be given healthy snacks to enjoy with sweet treats being given exactly as they are described, as treats, not to be consumed everyday.
Below are 5 ways to decrease the sugar intake in your children’s diet
1. Wait to give them sugary foods when they are young
One of the biggest misconceptions parents have is that children should be drinking juice, given candy or soda under the age of two. Sure, it tastes good but the moment you give your child sugar that is all he or she is going to want to eat or drink. Wait as long as possible to introduce your children to candy, sweets, cookies or juice. Of course, we can’t keep them sheltered forever so . . .
2. Teach them moderation
Every child deserves to have an ice cream on a hot summer day or a piece of cake at a birthday party. But, these are special occasions, not everyday occurrences and it is important to teach your child balance and moderation. Children need limits and setting limits in regards to food is no different then setting a bedtime.
3. Read the label and ingredient list
How do you know if there is added sugar in a product you are giving your child. Read the label. Sugar’s can be hidden in the ingredient list and they might be listed under a code name besides “sugar”. If you see the following in the ingredient list, “corn syrup”, “high fructose corn syrup”, “dextrose”, “fructose,” or “honey”, there is added sugar in the product. Also, ingredients on the label are listed from largest amount in the food to smallest. So, if you see sugar as the first ingredient then there is a larger amount of sugar in that food compared with sugar being the last ingredient.
4. Provide foods naturally sweet and which contain natural sugars.
Many foods are both healthy and naturally sweet. For example, yogurt, fruit, and milk. Fruits are some of the most wonderful foods children can eat. Instead of adding sugar to their cereal or buying cereal already packed with sugar, add fruit. Instead of sugary snacks provide a slice of watermelon or some cut up strawberries. Introduce fruits from all colors of the rainbow for kids to try and eat. Additionally, try to encourage children to drink low fat milk instead of chocolate milk. An 8 ounce glass of chocolate milk contains 25 grams of sugar vs. an 8 ounce glass of low fat white milk which contains 13 grams of sugar, nearly half the amount.
5. Provide only 100% juice
Research shows that increased juice intake in children can lead to increased risk of childhood obesity. So how much juice is too much? The recommended amount of 100% juice is 4-6 ounces a day. 100% juice is recommended because in moderation it provides vitamins, minerals and healthy nutrients without any added sugar. Once again it is important to read the label. If a juice drink contains only 10% juice then something else is making it sweet, added sugar.
Lastly, please don’t forget that leading by example is one of the best ways to teach your child about healthy eating. And the best part is that all these suggestions for helping your child decrease sugar intake are just as good for parents too!
- Kavey, R. How sweet it is: Sugar-Sweetened beverage consumption, obesity and cardiovascular risk in childhood. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:1456-1460.
- Buchanan-Adams, R. Using FITS to understand consumption patterns in a critical period for the development of childhood obesity. Pediatric Nutrition-A Building Block for Life. 2011;34:13-18.