From an early age, children are exposed to messaging that informs their food preferences that in turn shape their eating habits. There is a direct correlation between the marketing of sugary snacks and drinks and the health issues pediatricians see in their young patients.
An alarming 40% of adolescents are overweight or obese; that can set them up for serious health issues later in life, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver disease. In fact, the number one reason adults in the U.S. need a liver transplant is the result of fatty liver disease.
Healthy habits start at home. Children’s food preferences are set early; their parents’ habits become their habits. By educating parents about good nutrition and the negative effects of excess sugar, saturated fat, and sodium children and adolescents become equipped with the right tools to make healthy choices later in life.
On average, sugar makes up 17% of what children consume each day. Here are some tips to help parents limit their children’s sugar consumption.
• Check out the label – Look at the nutritional information for sugar content. For children two and over, aim for less than 25 grams – about 6 teaspoons. Children under the age of two should not consume anything with added sugar
• Stick with water and low-fat milk. Soda, juice and sports drinks contain large amounts of added sugar. While milk contains natural sugar (lactose), it provides calcium, protein, vitamin D, and other nutrients children need.
• Limit fruit juice. It has more sugar per serving than whole fruit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than four ounces of 100% fruit juice a day for children ages one through three, four to six ounces for children ages four through six; and eight ounces for children ages 7 through 14. Do not give fruit juice to infants under one year of age.
• Go fresh and limit processed pre-packed food and drinks. Pre-packaged food is convenient when you’re on the go, but they also contain large amounts of sugar. Fresh fruits are a great way to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth and nutritional needs.
Understanding nutritional information is the first step in managing kids’ health. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about other ways to build healthy eating habits.
George J. Fuchs III, MD, is the Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.