Hello Mommies and Daddies! Welcome back to Happy, Healthy Children with Pamela Cunningham, M.D. Thanks for reading! I want to talk to you today about sugary treats and your children.
Many of us fondly remember growing up and having dessert night with our families. Maybe your favorite was your mother’s fresh-baked pie. Or maybe an aunt’s rice pudding. But how many of us remember having sugary treats every day and sometimes even more than one time per day? In today’s world, it is not uncommon for children to be offered sugary treats multiple times per day.
Let’s think about some places where children are offered these treats. Many teachers reward their students daily with a sugary treat for simply sitting and participating in class. When children complete a scavenger hunt at the library, they are often given a lollipop or a Pixie stick as a reward. After baseball games, parents and coaches often bring sugary snacks for the children to celebrate a win (or commiserate over a loss). The average American child eats between 65 and 152 pounds of sugar per year!
So is all this sugar that our children are eating a problem? The answer is yes! And yes on many levels!
First, let’s look at the issue from a strictly medical standpoint. Did you know that the rate of type II diabetes in children is increasing 4.8% per year in the United States? This increased rate of type II diabetes is directly tied to children’s increased consumption of sugary treats and their subsequent development of obesity. Obesity and diabetes in children are very real medical conditions that lead to short and long-term physical and emotional problems.
Secondly, all of these sugary treats that children receive can actually lead to malnutrition. You might ask “how does increased sugar consumption lead to malnutrition?” The answer is that, if your child is filling up on sugary snacks, they may not be hungry enough to eat a proper meal that contains actual nutrients. In fact, 57.8% of obese people are actually malnourished! Yes, that’s right. This is because the obese person’s excess calories are coming from food that doesn’t actually contain nutrients. Things like sugary treats, potato chips, sodas, etc.
Finally, there is something to be said for simply teaching our children the lesson of moderation. So many things in life that can be good for us in moderation are unhealthy for us in excess. Teaching children this lesson from a young age, including moderation with sugary treats, will help children learn the benefits of moderation in regard to other areas of life, such as excess play, excess work, excess video games, excess…you get the point! Moderation is a key to a happy, healthy life. Try to teach these lessons to your children early.
So how often should we treat our children to dessert? Many would argue that giving your child dessert or chocolate milk once a week with their lunch is reasonable. Some prefer scheduling a treat night every week for their family. Maybe Sunday Sundaes, Sweet Saturdays or Thirsty Thursday Milkshakes. This is a night your entire family can enjoy together, while also teaching your children to enjoy in moderation.
What about dealing with all the sweets that your children are exposed to around town? Make it clear to your child’s teacher what acceptable parameters are. For example, tell her that you don’t want your child getting any sugar unless it is a very special occasion, like a Halloween party or Valentine’s Day.
Instead of getting a Pixie stick at the library as a reward for completing the scavenger hunt, ask the librarian for a cool pencil or eraser instead. Children love these!
If your children like something sweet in their lunch box, they can have an easy-to-peel tangerine, some nicely cut apple slices, or fresh berries with whole milk yogurt. These will sooth their sweet tooth while still providing nutritional benefit and minimizing the processed carbohydrates.
If you haven’t always limited your children’s sugar allotment, the process will be a transition for both you and your child. But always remember, you are the adult. You have been blessed with the responsibility of raising your children. So you take the lead, you make the decisions and you set the example. Teaching your children good eating habits and moderation now will be a gift you give them for life and will be one more step in your goal of raising happy, healthy children.
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