Written by Claire Darlington
Sugar, Obesity And Tooth Decay
Childhood obesity is a major public health challenge in the UK and around the world, with governments and companies increasingly involving themselves in different strategies and interventions to reduce excess weight in the adult and paediatric population (1,2). Research regarding the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity is very alarming.
Childhood overweight or obesity increases from 2007-2013 as follows:
2-5-year-old boys – minimum 19.5% prevalence in 1995, to maximum prevalence 26.0% in 2007
6-10-year-old boys – minimum 22.6% in 1994, to maximum 33.0% in 2011
11-15-year-old boys – minimum 26.7% in 1996, to 37.8% in 2013
2-5-year-old girls – minimum 18.3% in 1995, to maximum 24.4% in 2008
6-10-year-old girls – minimum 22.5% in 1996, to maximum 32.2% in 2005
11-15-year-old girls – minimum 28.3% in 1995, to maximum 36.7% in both 2004 and 2012
What is one of the main contributors to this weight increase?
Although children’s diets in the UK appear to have improved in recent years, intakes of several key nutrients remain below dietary recommendations and intakes of saturated fat and sugar exceed current targets. One of the main contributors is sugar! ‘Sugars’ refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, the cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
England has the highest level of sugary soft drink consumption among many other countries, with just under 40% of 11 to 15-year olds reporting they drink soft drinks at least once daily (3). There are higher rates of tooth decay when the intake of sugar is above 10% of total energy intake.
What can we do to help prevent this weight increase?
To maintain a healthy weight, children should consume a healthy balanced diet which contains a variety of foods, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, plenty of grains and complex carbohydrate foods, some protein-rich foods and some milk and dairy foods. It is well known that overweight children are more likely to have overweight rather than underweight parents (4,5).
Genetic similarity explains about 50–90% of the adiposity make up of members of a family (6,7). So we cannot always battle with our given body types/shapes. But there are still nutritional choices and habits we can instil into our children from an early age to help them make the right choices themselves when they are older.
The preference for a sweet taste is quickly modified by experience. One study showed that infants at birth prefer sweet solutions to water. However, by 6 months, the preference was associated with dietary experience; only those children routinely fed sweetened water, compared with those who did not, showed a greater preference for sweetness.
When preschool children were given sweetened, salty or plain tofu, they preferred the version with which they were familiar with. So this alone proves if we chose to give our children low sugar alternatives, from infant age, they will automatically choose these options as they mature into adults (8).
What are the recommended levels for sugar intake?
The government recommends that free or added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day. That’s a maximum of 30g of added sugar a day for adults, which is roughly seven sugar cubes.
Children should have less, no more than 19g a day for children aged 4 to 6 years old (5 sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children aged 7 to 10 years old.
Claire’s Top Tips for keeping sugar intake low
- Start with Breakfast– For a healthy start to the day, swap sugary cereals for plain porridge (not the added sugar or sweetened versions), or choose a yoghurt with fresh fruit and a handful of sunflower seeds or sprinkled chopped nuts.
- Be wise with your snacks– Cut back on sugary snacks by swapping cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets for one of our Grizzly Bars, or fruit, yoghurts, toast, or bagels.
- Drink smart– Swap soft drinks, juice drinks and flavoured milk for water, milk, low sugar milkshakes (try our Milkshake Mix for a low sugar milk drink)