The graph above (courtesy of the Rudd Center at Yale University) shows that as children get older, they consume three to five times more than the recommended daily limit of added sugar. Excessive added sugar intake is just one contributing factor to the rising obesity epidemic in the U.S. You think healthcare is expensive now?
Consider the recent talk about added sugar centered around this alarming statistic, released two months ago: In 1999, 9% of our nation’s youth were pre-diabetic or diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Just over 10 years later, in 2011, that number more than doubled to 23%. That is approximately 1 out of 4 kids. Beyond healthcare costs, will we be the generation who outlives our children?
Another statistic: one out of three young people who want to join the military are not eligible because they are overweight. There are young soldiers who are clinically obese. Our sugar problem is a matter of national security! (I am not the first to make these observations – see, Climbing Obesity Rates Threaten U.S. National Security by Hampering Military Recruitment).
For survival, humans are hard wired to prefer consuming sweet over bitter. Sweets taste good. Everything in moderation, right? Yeah, right! If you are a parent, how often are your attempts to “moderate” trumped by other people’s decision to give your kids added sugary snacks: birthday and holiday celebrations in and out of school, at scout meetings, sports events, religious functions, a lollipop at the bank, organic fruit leather at Trader Joe’s, etc.? Look at all the occasions on the calendar we as a nation have as an excuse for overindulging on sweets as part of a celebration: New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter/Passover, Memorial Day, Graduation Parties, July 4th, Summer Vacation, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Hanukah. It all adds up.
It’s not just a dessert or candy problem either. How many of us know about the added sugar in packaged foods, milk, sports drinks and other beverages today? Check out this fact sheet that defines added sugar and lists its different names used on food labels – Rudd_Ctr_Added_Sugars_Facts_May_2012
If you are a sports fan, how big are those cups of sugar sweetened beverages? While watching the game, you are likely to drink the whole thing. If you and/or your child is an athlete, according to the Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, switching to an alternative to Gatorade prevents excessive sugar and caloric intake that may encourage dental erosion, overweight, and obesity.
If adults have trouble with portion control, how will the next generation fare? There is an interesting study that reveals a habit of food and drink pairings among children (cited in “Contingent choice. Exploring the relationship between sweetened beverages and vegetable consumption May 20 2012, by T. Bettina Cornwell and Anna R. McAlister). More children pair soda with pizza, french fries, or any other calorie dense food. Ah, the power of advertising! They also are more likely to pair water with veggies (Given water, kids will be more likely to eat their veggies!). Experts say that pairing water with a fast food meal would make a huge difference. One of the results of this study that shocked me the most was the perception that families avoided drinking water because it made them feel poor. OMG!
There is no shortage of evidence of the marketing of sugary cereals, snacks and drinks aimed at children and teens. Sugar is cheap, sugar tastes good and sugar sells. Food and drink companies have discovered this in the last decade and have little incentive to change.
What can we do? Plenty! Take small steps to:
1) Drink water – and be confident about it. Reject the notion that this makes you look poor! If you are a parent, it’s never too late to make small-step changes at home and away.
2) List foods you can have rather than those you cannot. By all means, avoid the word diet.
3) Monitor your sugar intake – keeping track by writing a log really helps. Here’s what the American Heart Association recommends for adults. This article talks about the various health risks of excessive added sugar intake.
4) Know the names of added sugar in processed food (see Rudd Center fact sheet above).
5) Go to your local library and find out about low-glycemic foods. Check out Marilyn’s delicious recipe for low-glycemic Dark Chocolate Candy Bark. This is a treat my whole family will eat. My three kids fought over this when Marilyn gave me and my daughter this as a gift for our birthdays!
6) Eat more fruits and veggies to fill up – naturally occurring sugar is best.
7) Incorporate exercise you enjoy. Small steps become big ones! Consult your health practitioner first to find out what’s best for you.
Cheap is not affordable. The 99-cent Big Gulp you drink today won’t seem so cheap compared to your health costs in the long run. As I like to say, health is wealth!