5 reasons why parents give in to sugar-filled diets
Every day in the news, there are articles, interviews, and new research findings showing just how bad sugar is for our health. As an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) for kids, I see countless preschoolers with chronic runny noses, congestion, cough, croup, and even trouble swallowing. The good news is that once parents eliminate juices and flavored milk, I’ve seen these symptoms improve and no more need for medication. So why do we as parents give in? Based on the conversations I’ve had with parents and caretakers in clinic over the past seven or eight years, I’ve found five common reasons our children have been given too much control over their diets:
- Parental guilt. With most families having two working parents, and our cultural emphasis on work and productivity, we have very little time left to spend with our precious babies and infants. It’s hard to say “NO” when those shiny eyes and round cheeks are asking for the juice boxes and sugar-filled pouches they enjoy so much. It appeases our guilt for being away from them most of the day.
- Lack of limits. Many of our preschoolers are cared for by daycare providers, nannies, and/or grandparents. Non-parental caretakers are more likely to give in to what little ones ask for, and they may not be aware of the excess sugar hidden in flavored milks and sugary beverages. If a child is being cared for by several different parties, it’s all too easy for the sugar limit to creep up without anyone knowing. Instead, we must set sugar limits with explicit instructions about what we would like our child NOT to eat and drink when we are not present.
- Lack of awareness of sugar content. Every day, I point out to parents the amount of sugar in juices, sugary beverages, flavored milk, and many childhood favorite items like yogurt drinks. The response is often the same: “But it says ‘organic,’ ‘100% juice,’ or ‘No Sugar Added.’” That doesn’t erase the facts: every 4 grams of sugar listed on the food label equals one teaspoon equivalent of sugar. So an 8 oz. glass of flavored milk or juice with a little over 24 grams of sugar has about 7 teaspoons of sugar. As Dr. Mark Hyman points out, we used to eat 22 teaspoons of sugar a year, and now our children consume that in a day. We need to get familiar with labels and start reading the sugar content.
- Overwhelming strategic marketing and advertisement. Parents see labels on sugary juices with bright images of vegetable and fruits, products names that include the words “SUPER,” “Healthy,” “Vitamin,” “Vegetable,” and “baby” and statements like “Equivalent to 2/3 cup of fruit” and “25% less sugar.” These labels are purposely misleading.
- Our perception that we need to make our children “happy.” It’s tough to deny a child of their favorite thing. Seeing that cute and smiley face we get the moment we put apple juice and Capri Sun pouches into their hands makes us happy. But we’re enabling sugar addiction by buying processed items and becoming a willing participant both at home and by allowing this in daycare/school settings. We need to protect our children by setting limits and getting comfortable with saying “NO.” One of the best things we can do for our children early on is to encourage them to start drinking water: it’s a lifelong habit they’ll thank you for.
As a parent myself, I know it’s not easy to say no. The sugar industry is intelligent, and millions are spent on marketing and advertising to parents. We need to take a stand. Our vulnerabilities are exploited daily, and because of it, our children will likely be the first generation not to outlive their parents. Excess sugar consumption in America continues to cause the early onset of diabetes, obesity, and many other health issues that no healthcare system nor reform can handle. But still, we need to say “No” more often and not feel guilty about it. We also need to express our guidelines and wishes to our daycares, schools, and anyone who cares for our children. Our children can be happy without juices, sugary beverages, and snacks if their palates are not used to it and they don’t develop a sugar addiction. Everyone is happier when our children do not need medication and frequent visits to the doctor. The crying will not last long, but the health issues will last for a lifetime.