Health News

Why your child is probably eating too much sugar

Hidden sugar is found in many children’s and teens’ favorite foods. What may look like healthier choices, such as fruit-flavored drinks and low-fat pudding and yogurt, actually have high amounts of sugar. New guidelines suggest children under 2 eat no sugar so they develop a taste for healthier foods and older children limit sugary sodas and snacks.
Hidden sugar is found in many children’s and teens’ favorite foods. What may look like healthier choices, such as fruit-flavored drinks and low-fat pudding and yogurt, actually have high amounts of sugar. New guidelines suggest children under 2 eat no sugar so they develop a taste for healthier foods and older children limit sugary sodas and snacks. meperez@sunherald.com

Kids who eat a blueberry Pop Tart for breakfast and wash it down with a vitamin-fortified energy drink will already have consumed more than three times the amount of sugar the American Academy of Pediatrics says they should have in a day.

That 16-ounce energy drink sounds healthy with its B6 and B12 vitamins — but it has a whopping 54 grams of sugar. The frosted blueberry Pop Tart adds 18 grams for a total of 72. The most a kid or teen should have in a day is 24 grams, according to new guidelines.

All that sugar can lead to health problems and low self-esteem for overweight kids, and experts say the health issues will follow them as adults.

Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, research shows. Nearly half the children in Mississippi are overweight or obese.

Cut the sugar

New guidelines released Aug. 22 by the American Heart Association say toddlers shouldn’t be allowed any added sugar until their second birthday cake and older kids should be drinking less than one 12-ounce can of soda or one sweet tea per week. The guidelines say:

▪  Children under 2 should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars at all.

▪  Children and teens ages 2 to 18 should limit added sugars to less than 24 grams (six teaspoons) a day.

▪  Children and teens ages 2 to 18 should drink no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks a week.

These new guidelines aren’t to deprive kids of a sweet treat, but to keep their weight under control so they will be healthier. And Mississippi this year is ranked the second most-obese state in the country after Louisiana.

More than one in three adults in Mississippi are obese, or 35.6 percent, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health.

Part of the reason for adult obesity can be attributed to high-calorie drinks. The State of Obesity report said teens throughout the nation who are drinking one or more soda is down almost 40 percent from 2007 to 2015, Nationwide, the rate now is 20 percent, but in Mississippi, 29 percent of high school students still drink one or more cans of soda a day.

Coke has 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can and 65 grams in a 20-ounce bottle. Pepsi has 41 grams in a can and 69 grams in a bottle.

Schools say no to sweets

Most kids aren’t drinking soda or eating candy at school. Federal and state regulations require schools in Mississippi to have a wellness program that spells out what foods can be served for breakfast and lunch, for school parties and stocked in vending machines and concession stands at school events.

Parents also are paying attention to the amount of sugar and salt in their kids’ diets, said Tanna Walton, an employee at Doctor’s Nutrition on Cowan Road in Gulfport. In addition to weight, they are concerned with their child’s focus and how it may be affected by diet, she said.

She has a 3-year old daughter and said, “We do the absolute best that we can” to limit her sugar. Walton carries lollipops with artificial sweetener to give her young daughter when they turn down sugary sweets that are offered in public. She also does a lot of cooking from scratch to limit added salt and sugar.

Walton said she sees children and teens who carry extra weight around the middle, which can indicate pre-diabetes. Jim and Janine Fox, chiropractors who have practiced natural medicine for about 20 years in South Mississippi, counsel families on nutrition at Doctor’s Nutrition and do lab work to see if children have pre-diabetes, thyroid problems or other issues caused by weight.

“Lab work is a good place to start,” Walton said.

Hidden sugar

Fruit and milk products are naturally high in sugar, and to help consumers with healthy food choices, the Food and Drug Administration is beginning to require that nutrition labels show the amount of added sugars in prepared foods.

Reading the labels and checking the nutrition information on favorite restaurant foods can be shocking. Added sugar is in salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, breads and foods such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which now is made without artificial colors or flavors but still has 6 grams of sugar in a cup. Nutella has 11 grams of sugar in a tablespoon.

A takeout order of sweet-and-sour chicken from a Chinese restaurant can have 81 grams of sugar and an order of General Tso’s chicken could pack 62 grams of sugar.

Nutrition websites suggest parents substitute high-sugar foods and beverages in their children’s diets with better choices. Applebee’s crunchy onion rings have 16 grams of sugar but the restaurant’s French fries have none. Lucky Charms cereal has 9 grams of sugar, regular Cheerios have 2. A Yoplait original, 99 percent fat free Lemon Burst yogurt has 31 grams of sugar; light versions have about 10.

The skinny on sugar

The likelihood of children developing health problems rises with an increase in the amount of added sugars consumed, according to The State of Obesity report.

“Children who eat foods loaded with added sugars tend to eat fewer healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health,” said Miriam Vos, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and lead author of the report.

“For most children, eating no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day is a healthy and achievable target,” Vos said.

Grams of sugar in children’s favorite foods

44: Mango Madness Snapple, 16 oz.

18: Yoplait original strawberry banana yogurt, 6 oz

18: Dole mixed fruit cup in 100% juice

14: Snack Pack chocolate pudding cup

13: Kraft Original BBQ Sauce, 2 Tbsp.

12: Honey Nut Cheerios, 1.8 oz

7: Jiffy Mix corn muffin

6: Kraft Macaroni and cheese, 1 cup

2: Cheerios, 1.2 ounce

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