When children are young, they start to establish health habits that will impact them for life. Eating too much sugar at a young age can have many harmful effects, and they will carry those effects and habits with them for years to come.
One of the main concerns that parents and pediatricians alike have for children is their still-developing brains, and sugar can have some very negative effects. High levels of sugar consumption in children can impair memory, slow down the brain, damage cell communication, decrease cognitive function, cause mood instability, exacerbate anxiety and depression, and create addictive tendencies. This terrifying list of problems alone should be enough to make parents limit sugar consumption for their children.
Growth and Development
A diet high in sugar leaves little room for more healthful foods in tiny tummies. When snacks, drinks, and meals consist of many sugary treats, there’s no way for a child to also consume adequate vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates that are necessary for their growth and development.
Childhood obesity statistics are on the rise, affecting over 13 million children in the US. Approximately 1 in 5 children in the US is overweight, a number that has tripled in the last 30 years. Overweight children are more at risk for remaining overweight as adults, the risk for many diseases increases in this population, and they can suffer from social stigma and discrimination. Unhealthy eating patterns (most of which revolve around the consumption of refined sugar), lack of physical activity, and genetics can all contribute to childhood obesity.
For overweight children and children who consume sugar in large quantities, risk is high for the development of many diseases. These can include hypertension (high blood pressure), insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and other breathing problems, fatty liver disease, and psychological problems like anxiety and depression.
Just like adults, eating sugar can cause a “crash” in energy for children, but kids tend to react even worse than grownups to this crash. Feeling tired or lethargic can make children cranky, irritable, and emotional. When you see a child “acting out,” you may simply be witnessing the crash that follows eating too much sugar.
When kids eat sugar, mouth bacteria turn it into acidic substances that damage the enamel on teeth. Sugar also lowers the pH of saliva, making kids more susceptible to cavities and gum disease over time. This is a problem for both the baby teeth that they will lose during childhood and the adult teeth that will replace them. Establishing good habits during childhood will have life-long impacts on their teeth and oral health.
Rather than rewarding behaviors with sugary treats or allowing children to start unhealthy, addictive relationships with sugar, try healthier alternatives. Ideas include:
- Use stickers or toys as rewards for potty training or performing certain tasks
- Teach children to enjoy dried fruit, trail mix, or other healthful foods instead
- Keep healthy cereals and snacks on hand instead of stocking up on options high in sugar
- Teach kids to listen to internal cues and choose foods that will help them feel good
- Try some of our sugar-free snacks, baking goods, and more.
By limiting sugar consumption in children, you can avoid many physical, mental, and emotional health problems and set them up for better health, inside and out.