monitor child’s sugar

Should Parents Limit the Amount of Sugar Their Kids Consume?

by Christina Vanvuren, writer at Whole Family MD

From the more obvious candy and ice cream to the seemingly innocent culprits like ketchup and protein bars, sugar is everywhere. This isn’t hyperbole. In fact, an article in The Washington Post shared data from Euromonitor that shows that the United States leads the world in sugar consumption with the average person consuming 126.4 grams of sugar every day. To put this in perspective, the average sugar consumption of our Canadian and Mexican neighbors is 89.1 grams and 92.5 grams, respectively.

As a parent, you know from first-hand experience that too much sugar can cause your child to go from sweet to sour in the space of an hour. All that Halloween candy? The birthday party treats? The juice boxes they insist that you buy? Loaded with sugar. But, then, so is ketchup, some brands of peanut butter, and the organic bunny crackers they love so much. 

In addition to causing your child to soar and then crash, sugar is damaging to their bodies in a number of ways, most prominently putting them at risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. We want to protect our children from the toll sugar takes on their little bodies now, and how it will impact their relationship with food later in life. At the same time, we don’t want to make sugar such a rarity that it becomes an obsession. 

This begs the question: should parents limit the amount of sugar their kids consume?

Each family is different, so there’s no one right answer. However, children greatly benefit from boundaries and that includes how much sugar they have access to. Here are some reasons why parents might want to put a sugar limit on their kids diets, and how to make that an easier process. 

Teach moderation

“Everything in moderation” is a great phrase to use to teach your children that it’s ok to enjoy sweets every once in awhile, in small portions. This eliminates the need to completely swear off sugar (which is, let’s face it, unrealistic and something you can only enforce at home) while teaching healthy habits. Another benefit of teaching kids moderation is that you can show them how to really enjoy what they’re eating, be it dinner or dessert. The act of savoring food only enforces that you don’t need a lot.

Banish the Clean Plate Club

Maybe your parents made you sit at the dinner table until all of your food was gone, even when you protested that you weren’t hungry. If that was your experience, how has that impacted your relationship with food as an adult? Many people who were part of the “Clean Plate Club” as children struggle with portion control and recognizing when they are physically hungry, versus bored, emotional, or in a social environment. Getting rid of the rule that your kids need to finish their whole meal, especially with getting to enjoy dessert as the end game, will help them develop intuitive eating habits that last well into adulthood and extend to sweet treats, as well. 

Avoid dessert as a reward or punishment

Similar to not prompting your child to finish their meal so they can have dessert, experts agree that using desserts (and food in general) to reward good behavior or punish undesirable behavior. An article called What Rewarding Kids With Food Looks Like 20 Years Later breaks down the many studies that correlate this with unhealthy eating habits in adulthood. “In a 2003 study in Eating Behavior 122 adults were asked about their current eating habits along with their memories about food as kids. The adults who recall parents using food to control behavior through reward and punishment were more likely to use dietary restraint (restricting food practices such as dieting) and binge eat. A second study in 2014 with 165 undergraduate students showed that instrumental feeding in childhood mediated the relationship between binge eating in response to negative affect. In other words, those who were instrumentally fed as kids were more likely to binge eat in response to negative emotions (AKA emotionally eat).” 

While you don’t necessarily need to measure how much sugar your child has each day, helping them to establish healthy habits around food, in general, can help protect their health (and your sanity). If you’re concerned about your child’s eating habits, make an appointment to see a doctor at WholeFamily MD.