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Childhood Obesity - Is Sugar to Blame?

Like so many parents, I feel like there are days when I just say no all the time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m bombarded with “can I have?” and “just one more?”. The answer is sometimes yes, but there are days when it feels like I’m firing back a constant tirade of no’s. My children, like so many, love goodies and sweet treats and that’s OK because they’re children, right?

Well yes, to a certain degree in moderation, like everything else in life. But with today’s startling statistics showing the ever-increasing rise in childhood obesity and the harsh reality of a type 2 diabetic epidemic upon us, I feel justified in my sometimes-never-ending battle. I feel it’s important to educate my children that while I am saying no to some of their requests, that there is a good reason why.

As a nurse and a promoter of good health, I play a huge role in educating people about moving more and eating less high fat/processed foods and this is a message I am passionate to deliver to all children and for me, this very much starts at home.

Childhood obesity is down to the same reasons as weight gain for any age: by consuming too much and moving too little. By eating food high in fats and sugars and not burning it off through physical activity, much of the excess calories will be stored as body fat.

As well as putting on weight, there are many other negative health impacts of childhood obesity including psychological and emotional issues. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers are also known to be linked with obesity.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that there are 1.9 billion overweight adults in the world, 600 million of which are obese. This equates to 13% of the global adult population. If changes to the population’s diet are not made, it’s thought that by 2030 there will be 2.16 billion people considered as overweight and a whopping 1.12 billion people classed as obese.

Unfortunately, childhood obesity statistics are equally as shocking. Figures published by the National Child Measurement Programme data relating to primary school children found that:

  • More than 20% of children are overweight or obese when they start school, and this increases to 33% by the time they finish primary school.

  • Childhood obesity statistics show that it’s the most deprived 10% of the population that are impacted the most and obesity is more likely to continue into adulthood for these children.

With this increase in childhood obesity, has come a rise in type 2 diabetes being diagnosed in babies, toddlers and young children. For many years, type 2 diabetes was known to only affect grown-ups and was once known as adult-onset diabetes, but now this is becoming more common in children. Between 2011 and 2012, 23% of new diabetes diagnoses in children were type 2 diabetes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and why is this?

Children who are overweight have more of a likelihood of insulin resistance. This means that their young bodies have to work hard to regulate insulin leading to high levels of blood sugar (Diabetes UK). It is this increased blood sugar over a prolonged period of time which damages the vessels in the body which results in diabetes.

So, does eating too much sugar cause diabetes? Well, not even the scientists are sure about that. But one thing is for sure, enjoying too much of any food that is high in sugar will lead to weight gain and it’s this that predisposes people to type 2 diabetes. So, if we are eating too many high-fat foods and sugary treats and not burning these extra calories then chances are, some of us will put on weight and this can lead to the health issues that are on the rise.

The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) published on 9th September 2016 by Public Health England (PHE) found that sugar accounts for up to 13% of children’s daily calorie intake, while the official recommended limit is around 5%. Shockingly, teenagers eat and drink three times the official recommendation for sugar (15%) and adults over twice as much (12%).

So, how are we going to combat these worrying childhood obesity statistics that are leading to these devastating impacts on our population’s health? The government has set out many targets to help reduce these trends and high on this list is reducing our sugar intake. Public Health England has published an Eatwell Guide emphasising the important food groups that should be eaten for a balanced diet. Dr Alison Redstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, says:

“Our new Eatwell Guide helps people to understand what a healthy balanced diet looks like. The evidence shows that we should continue to base our meals on starchy carbohydrates, especially wholegrain, and eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day.

On the whole, cutting back on foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories would improve our diets, helping to reduce obesity and the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease and some cancers. A smoothie, together with fruit juice, now only counts as 1 of your 5-a-Day and should be drunk with a meal as it’s high in sugar."

So, take comfort in the fact that you and your family don’t have to become part of the increasingly worrying childhood obesity statistics. Offering alternative healthier low sugar treats and snacks can be a great start in a healthier outlook and is a life saver for me when bargaining with the munchkins to eat those last few mouthfuls of veggies.

Check out my next blog on the truth about sugar and how simple sugar swaps can be a real game changer when trying to look after you and your family.


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