Sugar: What Are Its Hazards & Effects on Children?
Sweets are a tempting go-to treat and reward for parents – and we’ve all been there. Potty training? Let’s give our child an M&M every time they use the potty. Going to the store? Here are some fruit snacks to keep them quiet. And when your child is crying and having a tantrum over a candy bar, it's hard to say no. But what are the effects of all this sugar on children?
Let’s talk about all things sugar: how much, what happens, and how to know if your child is eating too much.
How much sugar should a child have in a day? How much sugar is too much for kids?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends children between ages 2 to 18 have less than 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of sugar a day. AHA also recommends children under the age of 2 have no sugar.
But Dr. Rydland suggests all children ingest almost no added sugars.
Not sure what that means for the cereal with 12 grams of sugar per serving? Keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. So that 12 grams turn into 3 teaspoons of sugar – half the AHA’s daily maximum recommendation.
Why is too much sugar bad for children? What are the effects of sugar on children’s health and development?
Several studies have shown the negative effects of too much sugar on kids. A 2016 study found eating lots of sugar is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Research also shows sugar is linked to asthma, contributes to eczema, and can hurt academic performance, learning, and memory.
Too much sugar in a child’s diet leaves little room for healthier food – like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. Sugar is also highly addictive and promotes overgrowth of imbalanced yeasts and bacteria in the body.
Is any sugar good for children? Are all sugars bad?
No, not all sugars are bad. It’s the added sugars in processed foods that are the problem – think white breads, cereal, muffins, fruity yogurts, and drinks (to name a few).
When thinking about sugar in your child’s diet, focus on natural sugars from fruit, whole grains, beans, and dairy products – all of which are a necessary part of your child’s diet for growth and development.
Keep in mind, sweets have a place in your child’s diet, but not every day. It should all be in moderation, perhaps once or twice weekly and in small amounts.
How can I cut out sugar from my child’s diet?
Cutting out sugary drinks is a good place to start. A 2018 Purdue University study found the biggest source of sugar in an average kid’s diet is sugary beverages like juice, soda, and sports drinks.
A 2015 study found children who drank sugary drinks usually weighed more than kids who didn’t – but when they swapped out those sugary drinks for milk or water, the children’s body weight went down. Our experience is that children’s health significantly improves also.
The next step would be to substitute fruit for sugary snacks or desserts.
What happens when a child eats too much sugar?
When children eat too much sugar, it leads to blood sugar spikes. These spikes can affect their overall mood, activity, behavior, and hyperactivity levels.
Think of the blood sugar spikes like a roller coaster. When they’re going up, your child may appear more active or hyperactive. But when those blood sugar levels go down, you’ll notice an increase in crankiness, whining, headaches, and tiredness.
Plus, sugar severely lowers the immune system for hours after consumption and depletes many essential nutrients from the body, especially several vitamins and minerals.
What are the signs a child is eating too much sugar?
Here are 10 potential signs your child is eating too much sugar:
- Weight gain (outside of regular growth spurts)
- Too many cavities
- Refusing nutritious foods
- Moody and irritable
- Not sleeping well
- Hyperactivity issues
- Digestive problems (like constipation)
- Craving sweets uncontrollably
- Skin breakouts
- Always hungry