Sugar Addiction and Children - Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics

Sugar Addiction and Children

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January 25, 2019

Photo of various candies like lollipops and M&Ms

Does it seem like your child only wants to eat sugary foods instead of “real” food? This is common with many parents, and it can be hard to navigate how best to limit sugar consumption. Many don’t realize sugar is a major concern for a child’s health, especially their oral health. However, sugar can change not only behavior, but can affect a child’s teeth and overall health. Use these tips and information to understand how sugar affects the body and ways to start limiting it for better oral and overall health!


The Sugar Epidemic

America’s problem with sugar has only developed within the last century. During the 1980s, sugar consumption escalated during the obesity epidemic, and the diabetes epidemic began a decade later during the 1990s. By 1999, the average American consumed 425 calories per day worth of sugar, and even though our consumption of it since the early 2000s has declined, the U.S. is still the largest consumer of sugar in the world. All of this sugar intake has consequences-America is the most obese country in the world and has the highest rate of childhood obesity, as well.


Most of the sugar that we get comes from sugary drinks (about 46% of our daily intake) and are the largest contributor to added sugar in the diets of people 12-50 years old. Snacks and sweets make up the next largest portion of sugar, with additives like corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, and maple syrup increasing the sugar content of our foods. Sugar is added to three out of four products found on grocery store shelves, and the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day-that’s equal to the amount of sugar found in just one banana! Sugar isn’t just a problem, but it has become a danger to the wellbeing of our society.


Why Is Sugar So Bad?

Heavy sugar consumption has long been a contributor to tooth decay, especially in children. Sugar occurs naturally in almost all foods, such as fruits and vegetables, grain, and dairy, and it is necessary in helping the cells in our bodies receive the energy that they need to properly function. Sugar is also important in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, but too much sugar can have an adverse effect on these maladies.


In the American diet, we tend to consume more added sugar than natural sugar, specifically from sources like soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereal, cookies, candy, and processed foods. Added sugar can even be found in common foods like soups, ketchup, breads, and cured meats. One of the most serious implications of the sugar epidemic is the increase in heart disease among adults. The higher the sugar intake, the higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Sugar poses more risk to just your heart, though. Research has found that high amounts of sugar can overload your liver, raise blood pressure, increase your risk for diabetes, inflammation, and weight gain.


Children and Sugar

Men shouldn’t have more than 38 grams of sugar per day, while women shouldn’t exceed 25 grams; children should be much lower than that. Because of their age and the stage of life that they’re in, sugar drastically affects children’s developmental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume only 8 ounces of sugary beverages per week, a goal which has been hard for Americans to follow as many children were drinking 19 ounces of sugary drinks per day just in 2000 alone. Children who consume a high dose of added sugar in their diets are more at risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, which all contribute to the likelihood of developing heart disease as adults. Sweet treats are a common way that parents reward their children for good behavior, or offer to them to keep them occupied while out shopping and running errands, but these practices can lead to sugar addiction in children that can have deadly effects for the future.


How To Avoid Sugar Addiction

Kids eating health lunches at elementary school

Parents have the largest influence on children and their consumption of sugar. One tip that parents can start implementing is to read food labels and look for added sugar. Sometimes food labels can be tricky, though, because the amount of sugar is normally listed in grams. Every 4 grams of sugar equals about 1 teaspoon, and the ADA guidelines about sugar consumption for children limits them to 6 teaspoons per day, which is about 25 grams of sugar. Understanding how much sugar is in each food or drink that you give your child will help you monitor their sugar consumption better and make healthier choices. Additionally, parents should be giving their children a varied diet to make sure that they are receiving the vitamins that their bodies need to function properly. Vitamins have a large impact on the development of our bodies, and the strength and health of our teeth.


Now that you know the effects of sugar in our diet, you don’t have to clean out your pantry of everything that contains sugar in it. Sweet treats can have a place in your child’s life, but it shouldn’t be everyday and should be given in reasonable portions or on special occasions. When with family and friends, take the initiative to ask them to provide healthier treats like dried fruit, mandarin oranges, or trail mix. It’s difficult for children to regulate a well-balanced diet, but their parents can, especially if they are modeling good habits themselves. Since candy isn’t the healthiest reward for young children, try switching up how you congratulate your child for completing a difficult task or potty training by adding stickers to a chart, putting marbles in a jar, or another activity that reinforces good behavior. Developing healthy eating habits in children isn’t a difficult process, but curbing sugar addiction is. Improve the health of your child and yourself today by implementing these tips into your daily routine, and make sure to go the extra mile to protect your child’s teeth by scheduling an appointment with Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics today at (720) 887-6003!