Are kids eating too much sugar?

A new study from the University of Guelph is one of the first in Canada to look at sugar intake in preschoolers. Researchers say the study is small and focused on children from Guelph, Ont., but it’s a good starting point to understand the problem. (MikeDotta/Shutterstock)

‘Eating patterns are established early in life,’ says researcher Anisha Mahajan

From CBC News

A new study from the University of Guelph has found many preschoolers in the city are eating more than the recommended amount of sugar on a daily basis.

Children should only get five to 10 per cent of daily energy from free sugar, or sugars added to food or drinks, as recommended by the World Health Organization, Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

But the new research, based on the Guelph Family Health Study, found eight of 10 preschoolers ate more that the five per cent limit of free sugar while one in three children ate more than the 10 per cent recommendation.

“We were anticipating that they’re probably having a little more sugar in their diet than they should be having. But we were certainly surprised by eight in 10. That’s a lot,” said David Ma, a professor of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the university and director of the Guelph Family Health Study.

Study a starting point

The study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open, looked at 109 children between the ages of 18 months and five years old from the Guelph area who are taking part in the multi-year health study. Parents recorded what the children ate on a daily basis

The extra sugar often came from baked goods, sweet treats, cereals, grain products and drinks.

Ma says while the study is focused on Guelph families, it’s the first study in Canada to look at how much sugar preschoolers are eating.

“It certainly highlights that we need to do more research to reconfirm this in larger populations or in different populations. But at least it gives us a starting point in a sense that it’s potentially a significant matter that parents should be aware of as it pertains to their children’s diet,” he said.

Start healthy habits young

Ma says there are three things parents can do if they are worried their children are eating too much sugar:

  1. Limit the number of servings of food that are high in free, or added, sugars.
  2. Encourage children to eat whole fruits and vegetables.
  3. Offer water to drink instead of sugary drinks. 

Anisha Mahajan, a PhD candidate and the first author of the study, said in a release about the research that it’s important to teach children good nutrition.

“Eating patterns are established early in life, almost by about age six, so looking at free and added sugar intake is important,” Mahajan said.

Free, or added, sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, Mahajan noted, while natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are absorbed more gradually. As well, there is more fibre, vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables compared to processed foods.

Ma noted the Guelph Family Health Study has published free cookbooks on its website to help people prepare healthy meals and snacks. Two books: Snack Healthy, Snack Happy and Kids in the Kitchen, can be good resources for parents looking to find healthier alternatives and get their children involved in cooking, he said.

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Jackie Kwitko Fressy Bessie Food Inc.

I’m Jackie Kwitko, the founder and owner of Fressy BessieTM Foods Inc. We make healthy frozen treats that are 100% free of preservatives, additives, sweeteners or artificial anything (and taste delicious – exactly the way mother nature intended). Learn more.

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