The recent Change4Life campaign highlighted that children in England are consuming too much sugar – an extra 2,800 sugar cubes per year. That’s equivalent to 312 cans of sugary cola,469 higher-sugar yoghurts or 562 chocolate bars!
Too much sugar is bad for children’s health and has contributed to increased obesity levels. It can also lead to the build-up of harmful fat on the inside that we can’t see. This fat can cause weight gain and serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, which people are getting younger than ever before, heart disease and some cancers. Too much sugar can also cause painful tooth decay; shockingly every 10 minutes, a child (in England) has a rotten tooth removed in hospital.
We talked to three mums with children aged 4-11 who have become more aware of their children’s sugar intake and have taken action to reduce it by making simple everyday swaps and giving them healthier versions of the foods and drinks, they enjoy. They also told us about the challenges they face when making these changes, especially when it comes to cultural foods and family members such as grandparents.
Reducing sugar intake
Ketul Nandini, mum of two said “My kids mainly drink water and low fat milk. Occasionally I give them a juice drink, but I know it can be high in sugar so I opt for a no added sugar one which is a better alternative.”
Mum of two, Rupal Kantaria shares “I’m careful with breakfast cereals as I know a bowl of higher-sugar cereal can have around 3 cubes of sugar per serving – so I give my kids healthy alternatives such as wheat biscuit cereal, porridge or eggs.”
Fellow mum, Raakhi Hurry believes that you have to be proactive in cutting back on sugar to help children eat well. She adds “Making just one or two simple swaps can really make a difference. When shopping, I check the pack labelling for its sugar content. We’ve also downloaded the Change4Life Food Scanner app, which my kids love to use to see the ‘traffic light’ labels brought to life.”
Dealing with sugar in cultural foods
Ketul shares “My children love eating Indian food. Sugar is commonly used in some Gujarati dishes like sweet kadhi or daal, but when we prepare these dishes we don’t add any sugar. My kids still enjoy the flavours just as much without it.”
Rupal adds “When it comes to mithai and other sweet treats, which contains a lot of sugar, I encourage my children to only have them occasionally – usually at special occasions. I’ll also make sure they have small portions. My kids understand that too much sugar can cause painful tooth decay, which helps.”
The influence of family members
Grandparents can play a significant role in their grandchildren’s diet, especially for children living in multigenerational households. This can be challenging for some parents, especially when grandparents’ attitudes may differ – for example, some may consider an overweight child as being healthy.
Rupal recognises this challenge “Grandparents can be a big influence and often default to the mindset which they have grown up with, which very much focuses on ‘the more chapattis eaten the better!”
Raakhi thinks it’s important for grandparents to understand the link between serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease and sugar to encourage them to start making healthier choices for their family. “Many South Asians know all too well about diabetes and heart disease as the prevalence of these diseases are high in our community. More understanding of the link between these diseases and sugar would go a long way. Also they need to see how much sugar is in everyday foods and drinks. If grandparents understood the risk associated with too much sugar in our children’s diet they could help us to make these swaps.”
Ketul shares “At the beginning my in-laws couldn’t understand my approach – but when I tell them how much sugar is in everyday foods and drinks, they are surprised. Also, when they see that my kids eat a variety of foods without any fuss and are not eating a lot of sweets or sugary foods, they proudly tell others to follow my example.”
Getting the kids involved
Rupal firmly believes that involving her children in food decisions can help encourage good long-term habits. “As a family, we plan our meals together, so my kids input into what they are eating. Not only does this help healthier meal preparation but it also helps my kids understand how to make the right choices from a young age.”
Her advice is “Don’t do it to your children – do it with them. Make it your family project to reduce your sugar intake.”
Ketul also believes it’s important to make children comfortable in the kitchen and involve them in making their meals “We spend time cooking and baking together as opposed to buying desserts. It brings us together as a family and the kids really enjoy it.”
Change4Life is here to help you and your family cut back on sugar. Download the Change4Life Food Scanner app to see the sugar content of everyday popular items or search Change4Life for healthier swap ideas.