New stats by Public Health England (PHE) reveals there’s a real issue with the amount of sugar young kids are consuming: children in the UK are exceeding the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18-year old by the time they are 10.
The PHE’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, based on children’s total sugar consumption from the age of two, found that children are consuming an average of 52.2 grammes a day.
The amount British kids are currently consuming the the equivalent to 13 cubes a day, eight more than the recommended level. The recommended maximum amount of sugar for 10-year-olds is 20-24 grammes a day.
“There’s concern about increasing rates of obesity in children which is very important,” explains Helen Drake, nutritional therapist at Cytoplan.
“Sugar intake does not just have an effect on weight, it also impacts cognitive health, immunity and energy levels, all of which are important for growth and development as well as long term health and wellbeing.
“Many children within a healthy weight range are still consuming too much sugar,” she warns.
So what can parents do to help reduce their child’s sugar intake?
Watch out for hidden sugars
“It is all very well being told to reduce sugar intake but there are many sources of sugar that are not obvious and therefore it can be a minefield for parents when considering their weekly shop and meal preparation,” explains Helen Drake.
“Many processed foods, ready meals and ‘free from’ products have added sugar to improve taste and to hide the excess salt used as a preservative. So foods do not have to taste sweet in order to contain sugar – most loaves of bread will have sugar added to them!”
Know your labels
Helen says that it is not always easy to identify whether a food product contains sugar as on the packaging it is not always labelled as sugar.
Some of the other names sugar goes by are: sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, malt extract/maltose, honey, corn syrup/rice syrup, rice extract.
Beware breakfast cereals, bread and pasta
“Highly refined or processed carbohydrates such as pasta, white bread and white rice are digested and absorbed so quickly by the body that the effect of eating them is very similar to consuming sugar itself,” Helen explains.
Common foods in children’s diets that contain high amounts of sugar or refined carbohydrates are:
- Breakfast cereals
- Soft drinks (including fruit juice)
- Cereal bars
- Fruit yoghurts
- White bread/pasta/rice
Helen suggests switching to wholefoods, which contain very little refined sugar and carbohydrates.
“Fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fat can automatically help reduce sugar intake as well as stabilising and regulating blood sugar,” she explains.
Make some sugar swaps
- Include cucumber, carrot or pepper crudités with hummus as a snack
- Grate carrot, courgette and onion to add to soups, stews, curries or bolognese to increase vegetable intake
- Offer fruit with nuts/seeds or nut butters as a snack
- Homemade smoothies made with coconut milk as a base (avoid fruit juice), with fresh fruit and seeds. Small amounts of avocado work well and vegetables such as spinach and cucumber can be added.
- Try lower sugar bars such as Bounce balls or 9 bars
- Swap white pasta for wholegrain or buckwheat pasta and white rice for brown rice
- Swap soft drinks and squashes for water with fresh fruit in such as strawberries, kiwi, lemon or watermelon, can use sparkling water as a treat
- Swap breakfast cereals for whole oats, add cinnamon or nuts and seeds or berries
- Swap white or milk chocolate for dark 70% chocolate
- Soft drinks- try and just go for water can make more exciting with adding fruit to flavour
- Swap cereals for whole oats, buckwheat pancakes, eggs, omelettes, wholegrain toast with b=nut butters
- Cereal bars/biscuits – swap for raw fruit and nut bars i.e. Naked Bar, they are still sugary but contain nuts so are better.
- Avoid processed foods and ready meals- make your own meals, kids love to make own pizza.
- Have healthy snacks available to avoid reaching for more unhealthy ones.
- Don’t go sugar cold turkey – still ok to have it as a treat at a friend’s party etc…but this should be occasionally not everyday/week
Childhood obesity continues to be a real issue in the UK
The topics of sugar and childhood obesity has been causing much controversy recently.
Latest figures have revealed that unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise mean one in three pupils are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
Further stats revealed earlier this year that one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese.
Measurements on children’s weight and height show the number of children classed as ‘severely overweight’ rose from 15,000 in reception to 22,000 by their final year of primary school.
The data was collected as part of Public Health England figures, and was analysed by The Local Government Association (LGA)
Last January, Public Health England encouraged parents to count the calories in their child’s snacks.
Each year, children consume almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, 100 sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 70 ice creams, washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.
Because of the alarming figures, the health body called on parents to be tougher on their kids snacking of sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks between meals.
Back in August it was also revealed that parents are feeling guilty about what they put in their children’s lunch boxes.
A YouGov poll for the Action for Children charity revealed that the most important factor in parents choosing what to put in a packed lunch was whether their child would eat it, not if it was healthy.
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