Advocacy / Sugar

Cupcakes, Math and Sugar Limits

cupcakesmathSince I’ve  previously posted about cupcakes and reading, today I’ll give equal time to math.  It’s only fair since it was my oldest’s Sweet Tarts and M&Ms math worksheets in kindergarten that triggered my food advocacy mission.  Having dealt with this issue for many years, I could hear the refrain “but it’s just one treat” as I wrote about the school cupcakes for Dr. Suess’s birthday.  Others have written many great posts about why it’s never about just one treat and you can read those here, here, here and here. What hasn’t been addressed is how this fits with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations to limit added sugar.

According to AHA guidelines, the amount of added sugar that a child should consume on a daily basis depends on the child’s age and caloric intake:

  • Preschoolers averaging 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day should limit added sugar to about 4 teaspoons (16 grams) per day.
  • Children ages 4 to 8 who average 1,600 calories per day should limit added sugar to about 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day. To fit in all the nutritional requirements for this age group, there are fewer calories available for added sugar.
  • Pre-teen and teens averaging 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day should not have more than 5 to 8 teaspoons (20 to 32 grams) of added sugar per day.

That cupcake to celebrate Dr. Suess’s birthday has 20 grams of sugar which already exceeds the upper limit for most kids.  Adding in the sugar from the chocolate milk and cookie in the school lunch pushes it even higher.  With the recent study linking sugar and diabetes, it is even more important to limit sugar intake.  We should also consider the impact on developing tastebuds.

We are born with an innate preference for sweet taste. This preference can be fostered or suppressed. If it is fostered, children will be resistant to eating foods that don’t taste sweet, like vegetables, plain milk and unsweetened cereal.

What can parents do to protect their children from getting too much from treats at school?  Having a strong school wellness policy that address not using food as a reward, healthy school celebrations and healthy fundraising makes a big difference.  If you’re unsuccessful advocating for a strong wellness policy or it is not consistently enforced, consider making a deal with your child.  When my children choose to say “no thank you” to a sugary treat, junk food or food reward at school, I give them a gift card or money.  Usually they’ll choose the alternative but the few times they didn’t, they often decided later the treat wasn’t really worth it.

This approach keeps us working together as a team to avoid too much sugar instead of them feeling deprived.  It won’t work for every child but it’s helped us to avoid exceeding the limits for added sugar on  a regular basis.  With diabetes increasing at a rate of about eight percent each year, we can’t sit back while schools overload our kids with sugar.

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