According to a pan-India survey conducted by SRL Diagnostics between 2012 and 2014, 66.11% of children in India have ‘abnormal levels of sugar’ in their body. Rapid urbanisation has changed the lifestyle and food habits of children in India. Our children now consume up to three times more sugar than what is good for their health. Here are some of the adverse effects of sugar on children.
- Behaviour, attention span and learning ability: Girardi et al at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, studied the different responses to sugar in 17 ADHD and 11 normal children. After an all-night fast, the children were given a glucose beverage containing eight times the sugar the brain uses in one hour. They found that the effect of sugar on ADHD children was not uniform. Many became increasingly hyperactive during the three- to five-hour period following the glucose breakfast. Other studies have shown that though high-sugar diets increase activity levels in both hyperactive and normal children, hyperactive children become more aggressive. Thus, the consensus is that behaviour, attention span and learning ability of some children are adversely affected by sugar.
- Tooth decay or cavities: It is common knowledge that sugar contributes to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth use sugar to produce acid. Over a period, this acid dissolves the enamel of the tooth and causes the formation of cavities. Tooth decay more commonly occurs in children who regularly consume candies and lozenges. As bits of candy or lozenge stick to the tooth, they prevent the saliva from reaching the tooth and neutralising the acid that causes tooth decay.
- Weakened immune system: Consuming excess sugar curbs the ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections. The white blood cells of our immune system fight infections by destroying harmful foreign bodies, but they need vitamin C to function efficiently. However, when there is excess sugar in the body, it accumulates in white blood cells. This prevents them from absorbing vitamin C and weakens their ability to mop up harmful microorganisms.
- Obesity, diabetes and heart disease: Added sugars contribute to the risk of developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A study by Dr Rachael Taylor, Lecturer, Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago and her colleagues showed a strong link between the habit of consuming sugary beverages and weight gain. Although research is yet to suggest a direct link between sugar consumption and diabetes, it is indirectly linked to diabetes type 2. Consuming more sugar causes weight gain, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Associations between added sugars and increased cardiovascular disease risk factors have also been found. The American Heart Association reviewed studies that examined the effect of sugar on cardiovascular health. They found strong evidence to support the association of added sugars with increased cardiovascular disease risk among US children.
- Craving for sugar: A meal that is high in sugar triggers increased release of insulin. The excess insulin remains in the system and causes the child to crave for more sugar.
Now that you know about some of the ill-effects of sugar, it’s time to go on a sugar holiday. Cut back on foods that contain excess sugar and increase those that contain vitamins and minerals. Does it sound like a lot of work? It does, but isn’t it worth the effort if it puts your child back on the path to good health.