life of
dr. mom

Childhood Obesity

There is a growing epidemic of childhood obesity.  The reasons for this is multifactorial, one of those factors being highly processed and high sugar foods and beverages.  

An unexpected family dynamic between my parents, and Graeme and I is how we choose to feed our children.  My mom in particular feels that if my daughter (her granddaughter) wants to eat or drink something, then she should be able to have it, regardless of the nutritional content.  I grew up being able to eat whatever I wanted, and it was often high sugar content foods.  My fear is that if my children are exposed frequently to high sugar foods, then this is all they will be willing to eat instead of healthier alternatives.

Does Early Introduction of High Sugar Foods or Drinks Increase The Risk of Obesity?

A study published in Pediatric Obesity showed that early introduction of sugar-sweetened drinks did not significantly increase the odds of obesity.  Although a high intake of sugary beverages did increase the risk of obesity in children age 8 to 14.

The Canadian Paediatric Society provides the following recommendations to parents:

  • Offer foods that do not have added sugar or sugar substitutes.  Limit refined sugars as well as honey, molasses, syrups, and brown sugar.  
  • Sugar substitutes (artificial sweeteners) are much sweeter than sugars and have no nutritional value.  They may lead to a habit of a child only liking sweet foods instead of healthy alternatives.  
  • Limit juice to one serving (125 mL) of unsweetened juice per day.
  • Offer fruit instead of juice

Limiting Sugar Intake Is Important To Reduce The Risk of Obesity

Even though there isn’t a clear study that shows early introduction of sugars increases a child’s risk of obesity, most of the literature agrees limiting sugar intake is important.  A high sugar diet will increase the risk of obesity.  Harvard School of Public Health has created an excellent document summarizing the implications of high sugar drinks.  

Finding Balance Between Sugary and Healthy Foods

I may not necessarily agree with my parents giving my daughter high sugar drinks or processed foods, but I love the time and attention they give her when they are here.  They don’t get the opportunity to see her everyday, and one of the ways they show their love is giving treats.  I try to combat the sweets by packing snacks ahead of time for Madi’s time with her grandparents to help curb the sugar intake.  Though I still fully expect her to return with sticky fingers and chocolate stains!

This post was co-authored by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP .

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