Sugar Problems in Children: How to Identify them?

The consumption of foods rich in processed sugar is the cause of various diseases such as diabetes, overweight, and tooth decay in children. Experts recommend avoiding sugar and replacing it with fruit and vegetables.

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LatinAmerican Post | Yenny Rodríguez Barajas

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There are countless foods on the market, such as ice cream, biscuits, sweets, cakes, desserts, and soft drinks, among others, which are included in the daily diet of children because of their tasty flavor, but which cause diseases such as diabetes, overweight or tooth decay. Experts recommend that as soon as children start eating foods other than breast milk (from the age of 6 months), they should be programmed to consume fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugars necessary for optimal development and daily activities. At the same time, refined or processed sugar should be avoided as much as possible.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a reduced intake of free (processed) sugars throughout life and, if consumed, less than 10% of the daily diet for adults and children because of their high content of added monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are linked to obesity and increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Following the WHO guideline, the recommendations were based on the totality of scientific evidence reviewed. Increased or reduced consumption of free sugars was associated with changes in body weight. Excess weight is associated with excessive intake of free sugars.

The report even points out that tooth decay is also a negative effect of unhealthy food consumption. Dental health problems are cumulative, dating back from childhood to adulthood. Since dental caries is the consequence of lifelong exposure to a dietary risk factor (free sugars), even a slight reduction in the risk of dental caries in childhood matters later in life; therefore, to minimize the lifetime risk of dental caries, the intake of free sugars should be as low as possible.

Health Risks of Sugar Consumption

Among the most common problems caused by the intake of free sugars are overweight and obesity, dyslipidemia, dental caries, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

To identify them, it is important to take children for routine check-ups with their pediatrician, carry out a nutritional diagnosis, and identify any alterations or risk factors on time, says pediatrician Lina Robayo Cubides, Master in Nutrition and Obesity. The specialist stresses that the consumption of simple sugars should be limited in all age groups, especially in infants (up to 2 years of age), who naturally prefer sweet flavors.

She reiterates that it is essential for parents not to expose children to free or added sugars in early childhood, as consumption generates a dopaminergic and endorphin stimulus in the brain. In other words, it causes an increased liking for sugary foods. "Breastfeeding should be exclusive for up to 6 months. Then include water and fresh food. It is recommended to eat fruit whole or in delicate pieces, not in juices, consume vegetables daily, 2 to 3 dairy products, 1 type of protein in the main meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and legumes 2 or 3 times a week (beans, lentils, and chickpeas). The amounts vary according to age and always include physical activity," the specialist said.

Watch for Signs of Excess Sugar in Children

According to Gisella Martínez, a pediatrician at Colmédica, the maximum sugar intake is less than 25 grams a day, equivalent to 6 teaspoons. Children should not consume sugar, mainly processed sugar, until age 2. "The global recommendation is that the sugar consumed should come from vegetables such as carrots and pumpkin and fruits such as bananas, mangoes, blueberries, cherries, among others, which should be consumed in porridge or chunks and not in juices, because fructose is converted into sucrose, increasing the sugar content," she explained.

He added that the best way to avoid health complications in children is not to give them packaged products, processed sweets, refined sugar, high salt content, or polyunsaturated fats. "Also, all sausages such as sausages and hams should be avoided because many additives such as nitrites are used in their preservation, which is potentially carcinogenic in the future. He indicated that among the most common symptoms that help us be alert to a health problem related to sugar is when children start to feel thirsty throughout the day. This is especially true when they do not do much physical activity (sports, games), known as polydipsia, or eat out of hand and do not chew their food correctly.

Guide to Sugar Consumption by Age



2-4 years

15 -16 gr/day

4-7 years

18-20 gr/day

7-10 years

22-23 gr/day

10-13 years

24-27 gr/day

13-15 years

27-32 gr/day

15-18 years

28-37 gr/day

We recommend you read: Pesticides in the diet: 10 dangerous foods for pregnant women and children

Healthy Food Guide

  • 6 to 8 months

Stop breast milk as the main food and start introducing foods such as grains, pulses, lean meat, and fish in thick porridge, mashed, or small pieces to encourage chewing movements. Offer one new food at a time (no mixing of several foods). Then, familiar food and a new one to identify tolerance and food allergies.

  • 9 to 11 months

Initiate chewing movements (move jaw sideways), and give finely chopped, soft, solid, mashed foods that can be chewed with the gums.

  • 12 to 24 months

Offer soft solids chopped into small pieces. Do not add salt before the age of 12 months, and do not add sugar to preparations before the age of 2 years. Give 2 to 3 main meals and progressively increase to 2 snacks between meals.

  • From 3 years

Provide 3 main meals 1 to 2 snacks between meals. Use lots of colors at meals, if necessary eye-catching shapes to generate better food acceptance. For example, vegetables or fruit (½ of plate) + protein (⅓ of plate or the size of your child's palm) + cereal or root vegetable (⅔ of plate or the size of your child's closed fist) or legumes 2 to 3 times a week.

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