As recently as the 70’s, weight problems were far less common than today. When someone struggled with weight back then, it was typically a middle age person with an expanding waistline. Childhood obesity was uncommon. It affected about one child in 20.
Today over 17 percent of children aged three to 19 are obese. But this isn’t just a childhood problem. Obesity in childhood sets the stage for health problems throughout life. These problems include high blood pressure, cholesterol issues, diabetes, fatty liver disease and increased obesity.
The American Heart Association just released a scientific statement examining the existing literature on sugar. It examined the effect of sugar intake on these obesity-related health problems. The results are discouraging, but not surprising: added sugar is bad and kids eat too much of it.
The statement recommends children consume no more than 25 grams (six teaspoons) of added sugars in their diet. It further recommends no added sugars at all for children under two.
Let’s put that in perspective. A single can of Coke has 39 grams of added sugar. Boom. Three Oreo cookies have 14 grams. A little pouch of fruit snacks has 10 grams--- and that hardly counts as a snack if you ask my kids.
But parents and grandparents are smart. They know to allow these treats sparingly. The bigger problem is in the foods we eat in abundance that seem healthy.
Consider dried fruit – this is pretty much sugar by the handful. Juice is the same – sugar in a box. What about yogurt? One container of Yoplait with fruit has 26 grams of sugar! Just throw a pack of Twinkies at them and quit pretending.
If a child eats a yogurt for breakfast, some dried fruit for a snack, and coke or a couple of cookies for a “treat,” that's three or four times the maximum. And that’s before they eat their spaghetti. That’s right. Spaghetti. Spaghetti sauce often has about 10 grams per half cup serving. Canned soup has a few grams of sugar, as does bread. Don’t forget the salad dressing. It may encourage junior to eat his greens, but most commercial brands deliver four grams per tablespoon.
So what’s the take away here? Read the food labels?
Even food labels are minefields to navigate. The FDA tried to make labels a valuable resource for us, but the food industry knows how to manipulate them. Oh, you found a spaghetti sauce that has half the sugar? Check the serving size - it may be a quarter-cup instead of the standard half-cup.
Did you find a juice box with half the sugar? Look at the rest of the label. It might be half juice and half water. There's nothing wrong with watering down your juice. There's just no need to pay for it when your own tap water will do the trick.
You can’t just look at the amount of sugar – you must be a food label interpreter to make sense of it all.
Think you can get sneaky and just use foods with artificial sweeteners? Think again. Individuals who consume food sweetened with artificial sweeteners gain weight faster than their counterparts who avoid them. In the end most of these foods are conveniences and treats. They come in boxes and cans and they make life oh-so-easy if you are a parent or grandparent.
That’s what makes them so likely to cause obesity.
That’s why most of what our children (and we adults) eat should come from whole foods. If there is a food label at all, consider it a warning. Then head to the produce section. Truly, we don't just vote at the polls in the U.S., we vote at the cash register. Real change in the healthfulness of our foods will come from the demands we place on the food industry.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.