Today’s kids are too sweet

American Heart Association asks both parents, providers to ease up on the sugar

by Kimberly Giles
Special to the Star News
Nothing is sweeter than a smiling, cooing baby or an “I wuv you” hug from a 3-year-old. So why are we trying to sweeten them up?

The American Heart Association (AHA) found children as young as 1 to 3 years old consuming 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day. By the time children are 4 to 8 years old, sugar consumption jumps to an average of 21 teaspoons a day.  Toddlers and preschoolers should only consume about four teaspoons of added sugar a day and children ages 4 to 8 only about three teaspoons a day.

Sugar is certainly important and is needed to give kids the energy they need to move throughout the day.  Any sugar your body doesn’t use gets stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, where it can quickly be converted into energy. Once those stores are full, sugar turns to fat.

Think junk foods are the only culprit of the high sugar intake?  Think again. Many brands of children’s favorite foods—such as yogurt, cereal and fruit juice—contain large amounts of added sugar. These sugary foods tend to also be high in calories, leading to widespread obesity in children. Diets high in sugar have also been linked to other health issues in children including tooth decay.

Focus more on the good sugars, those that are unrefined and are found in fruits and some vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, water and minerals, and there’s little chance that a child eating fruits and vegetables will get enough sugar to turn it to fat.

Try these tips:
•Offer naturally sweet and healthy snacks like fresh and dried fruit.
•Replace soda and sweetened beverages with low-fat milk (whole milk for children under 2) or water.
•Offer only 100 percent fruit juice and keep the serving size small. Try diluting fruit juice with water before serving.  Limit juice intake to four to six ounces for children under 7.
•Offer sweets occasionally but don’t use sweet treats as rewards.
•Fill sippy cups with water only. Children shouldn’t sip on sugary drinks. If you give a child beverages other than water, limit consumption time.
•Don’t let children go to sleep with bottles. Even milk can cause tooth decay.
•Brush after meals and snacks and include daily flossing to reduce the risk of cavities.

Reducing the amount of sugar kids are consuming is one step in ensuring a balanced, nutritious diet. Be a good role model. Kids will see your wholesome habits and adopt them, leading to a healthier lifestyle throughout childhood and into adulthood. (Editor’s note: Giles is  the outreach and communications manager for Child Care Choices.)

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