Are fizzy drinks really that bad for children? What are the short and long term impacts of too much sugar? Our dietitian tells all...
Fizzy drinks have been making headlines recently, linked with rising tooth decay, obesity and even being blamed for early onset puberty in girls. So, what impact is too much free sugar having on our bodies?
What happens to your body when you drink a fizzy drink?
When we eat or drink free sugars there is an initial surge of energy in our body and a hormone called insulin is secreted to control this sudden supply. This burst of energy is very short lived and is followed by a rapid drop in energy levels. This peak and trough pattern can affect hunger and is believed by some to affect behaviour and concentration. This is often seen in the classroom mid-morning if children have had a high sugar breakfast as their energy levels plummet at this time.
What are the long term effects?
It is well documented that sugar is strongly linked to dental issues - a third of five-year-olds and almost half of eight-year-olds have some decay in their milk teeth. There is also emerging evidence that a high sugar intake may be linked to early puberty in girls resulting in an increased risk of breast cancer. Further studies into this area are required however, before a strong association is made.
How much sugar should my child have?
Some health experts believe that sugar intake is driving obesity levels in children and fizzy drinks are a major contributor to this. There are up to nine teaspoons of sugar in a can of fizzy drink, which equates to 36g sugar - exceeding the daily recommendation for children.
4-6 year olds
7-10 year olds
11 year olds
The latest figures show that on average sugar makes up 13% of children’s (15% of teenagers) daily calorie intake, which is well above the recommended 5%. This is the driving force behind the introduction of the Sugar Tax, due to be implemented from April 2018. In essence, this is a levy on soft drink companies who will be required to pay a charge for drinks containing added sugar of more than 5%.
The rise in obesity
As healthcare professionals, solely linking sugar to the rise in obesity levels is a bold move, as the causes are multifactorial. There are three other significant influencers for the recent rise in obesity; the lower overall nutritional quality of diets, increased average calorie intake and decreased levels of physical activity. It is important not to forget these factors when talking about the health of our children.
Top tips to reduce sugar in your child's diet
- Dilute a small amount of fruit juice with sparkling water, rather than giving fizzy drinks. A portion of fruit juice is 150ml.
- If you do still choose to buy fizzy drinks, they should be enjoyed as an occasional treat rather than every day.
- Cook from scratch as often as you can. Batch-cooking and freezing at the weekend often helps.
- Choose porridge, granary breads or eggs in the morning, instead of high sugar cereals.
- Use the half and half approach – add a low sugar or wholegrain cereal to a higher sugar option as this will make it easier to reduce your child's reliance on sugar in the morning. As their taste buds adjust, gradually use less and less of the sweetened varieties.
- Encourage positive associations with fruits and vegetables by playing up their good qualities.
- Use sliced banana, cheese or avocado on toast rather than honey, jam or marmalade.
Do you want to check out how good your sugar knowledge really is? Try our fun, interactive quiz to see if you have your sugar facts in shape...
You might also be interested in:
- Behavior in children: how diet can help
- How much sugar should children have?
- Why do most children love sugar?
- Healthy eating: what older children need
- Healthy kids recipes
What's your view on fizzy drinks? Are they the villain they're made out to be and do you allow your children to consume them?