Last week, The Drudge Report posted an alarming headline: “Children aged five eating own weight in sugar each year.” Follow the link and you’ll be shocked to learn that:
The average five-year-old consumes the equivalent of their body weight in sugar in the course of a year, health officials have warned.
The Telegraph article includes no citation to backup or hyperlink to the study that’s the basis for this shocking claim. Annoying. The next paragraph offers a common sense approach to solving what’s being couched as a public health nightmare:
Parents are being urged to take control of their children’s habits…
Immediately followed by some predictable big government solutions:
…as the Government prepares to publish its strategy on child obesity, amid calls to introduce a tax on sugary drinks and foods.
I’m all for urging parents to take control of their children’s habits, but why the call for a tax? How about we just continue to encourage parental responsibility? Better yet, let’s start by stepping back and looking at that claim that young kids are eating their own weight in sugar. That certainly sounds bad, but is it?
The average five-year-old weighs around 42 pounds. That breaks down to about 1.84 ounces of sugar per day—that’s just under a ¼ cup or three tablespoons per day. That’s not an insignificant amount of sugar but is three tablespoons worth mass panic and government intervention?
I consider myself very involved in my children’s nutrition. I feed them breakfast at home, I pack them a lunch to take to school, and I prepare dinner for them every night—usually from whole ingredients that I’ve cooked (although I do sometimes throw a frozen pizza in the oven or make boxed macaroni and cheese…because I’m normal and tired most nights).
For breakfast, my kids will normally have buttered toast on which I’ve sprinkled a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon sugar. I usually put a small sweet in their lunches (a cookie or a small square of chocolate or a fruit rollup), and after school my kids typically munch on a cereal bar as they run around on the playground. Dessert is not served every night but I might give them a bowl of cereal before bed if they say they’re hungry. I sometimes put a little sugar in it.
My kids eat a large variety of foods—meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables and many grains and legumes. They are all healthy. My oldest is slightly under-weight. And yet, according to this study and the hyperbolic Telegraph article, my kids are overdosing on sugar every day because I’m pretty sure I’m meeting, or at least coming close to, that 1.84 ounces-per-day of sugar measurement that everyone’s freaking out about.
Sadly, what isn’t discussed in the Telegraph article or by government nannies ready to swoop in and levy taxes on sugar, is the more concerning lack of exercise among children. According to a study by the National Wildlife Federation, kids are only getting four to seven minutes of outdoor time per day while a study published in the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that half of American preschoolers do not go outside on a daily basis. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that kids need at least sixty minutes of unstructured free play to ensure children’s mental and physical health.
Consider those statistics when you read that government regulators are planning to tackle the obesity “epidemic” by focusing in on one ingredient—sugar. Will this really solve anything? Also, do articles like the one in the Telegraph, with hysterical claims about kids eating their weight in sugar, do anything to further the conversation?
The good news is that a part of this new anti-obesity initiative the British are launching (and soda and sugar taxes are sure to be a part of it) will include an information campaign designed to provide guidance on smart phone apps that already exist to help consumers choose healthy option for their kids. That’s a good solution—a free market, non-government solution.
Sure, parents should try harder to reduce sugar in their kids’ diets (and their own!) but they should really focus on the large goal of encouraging a healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet as well as plenty of exercise. That won’t make much of a traffic-generating headline, but it’s common sense advice that might actually work.
Julie Gunlock writes about food for the Independent Women’s Forum