Any parent who has browsed the supermarket with a child in tow knows that sugar is everywhere —cereal, yogurt, fruit snacks, cookies, prepared lunches, juice. It’s an endless litany of, “Mooom, can I get … ?”
The opportunities are endless, but the effects of a child who eats too much sugar can not only lead to a serious case of the wiggles. It also has the potential for long-term consequences such as weight gain and increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart issues, said Rochelle Boote, MD, a pediatrician at Avera Medical Group 69th and Cliff.
Being overweight can also have emotional and social effects ranging from bullying to depression and feeling socially isolated. “Those aren’t things you want to be worrying about as a teenager,” Boote said.
Keep Sugar in Check
Sugar is naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and milk. But many processed foods ranging from juices and cookies to cereal and even pasta sauce have added sugars and sweeteners. The goal for children should be to eat no more than 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar daily in foods or beverages, said Kalli Kurtenbach, RD LN, Diabetes Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. But according to the American Heart Association, the typical 4 to 8 year old consumes 21 teaspoons a day.
Those numbers are contributing to the growing number of overweight and obese children. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight.
The answer may seem obvious, but it’s not always easy to follow. Hey, who doesn’t want an occasional cookie after dinner?
“I never tell parents to cut out sugary treats completely, but it is good to limit it,” Boote said. “Instead of making it an everyday occurrence, limit it to special occasions.”
To Buy, or Not to Buy
That means keeping sugary treats out of reach from children, but the best solution is not buying it at all.
Kurtenbach also said parents should avoid rewarding children with food and instead choose non-food rewards and activities.
Other tips include:
- Read labels and watch portions. Foods might have more sugar than you expect and packaged snacks might also have more than one serving.
- Substitute milk or water for juice or sports drinks. Remember, water is adequate in most cases unless your child or teenager is very active in sports.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables to cut down on calories.
- Limit snacking and grazing, especially right before dinner.
Boote also said parents can find a happy balance. “A little bit of cheese on your broccoli isn’t horrible and smoothies are a great way to add veggies into the diet.”
As always, parents are a child’s most important role model, so setting a good example is key to fostering lifelong healthy habits.
“I encourage parents to have fruits and veggies around so that kids can be exposed to them,” Kurtenbach said. “They’re watching you and what you eat. Try to set the environment appropriately.”
For more information and parenting advice, go to AveraChildrens.org.