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70% of Americans are overweight or obese, and now our children are starting to take the strain, with children as young as two-years-old experiencing walking difficulties due to being as much as 50lbs overweight. Every year, the worldwide obesity epidemic increases. Excess intake of sugar is believed to be partly responsible for this.
Should we not blame the individual?
How can we, when from childhood they were given a sneaky little chocolate bar on the way to school in the morning, or given a double-portion of dessert as a reward for getting good grades. Each hit of sugar activates our reward system, much in the same way as cocaine or heroin. In time, the positive sensation we get from eating sugar drives us to go seeking more.
So, what should we do?
Should we ban all sugar from our homes, teaching our children to enjoy sucking on frozen carrot-pops, and dragging them out of birthday parties as soon as you get the whiff of a lit candle?
But that would neither prepare children from an adult world, full of sugary temptations, nor give them the chance at a rounded childhood.
Also, sugar is not the white powdered Devil.
But you said...
Currently, we eat far too much. 70% of adults and 40% of children are overweight or obese, and we eat far too much sugar.
It's recommended that men consume 9 teaspoons of sugar a day (around 150 calories), women consume 6 teaspoons a day (about 100 calories a day), and children consume three teaspoons a day.
This over-consumption of sugar is contributing to obesity, but it's not the only cause.
Sugar, in moderation, is important for health, being the most readily accessible source of glucose, energy we need for our daily life. Low blood glucose levels make us feel groggy, irritable and cause intense food cravings.
This is not a license to start cramming your diet with sugar. The little amount recommended, as part of a healthy and balanced diet, is enough.
The problem is that many of us eat too much.
The Way Forward
The best way to prevent sugar addiction into the future, reducing intake and improving health, is to start developing good habits from childhood. If you want to prevent your children being sugar-monsters - eager addicts who cram themselves with any- and everything sweet - there are some steps you can take.
Step One: Never Declare a Sugar-Free Zone
When anything is denied completely, you want it more. This is more potent in children, who are predisposed to enjoy the taste of sweet things. Perhaps, when your children are small and at home all the time, you can control their dietary choices. But what do you think will happen when they go to school?
Their friend will offer them a taste of super-sweet strawberry yoghurt. They'll prefer it to their natural yoghurt. They'll realise they enjoy sweet things. The cravings will begin. They'll begin bingeing at school, spending the emergency money you give them on the way home from school on chocolate bars and ice-cream lolly-pops.
Instead: have small sweet treats at prearranged times.
Step Two: Say "Not Yet", not "No"
"Mummy, can I have some cake?"
"Cake's a treat food. You'll have some for Grandpa's birthday on Sunday."
"Can I have ice-cream?"
"What a good idea. Let's have some for dessert tonight."
Rather than saying "No", get into the habit of saying "not yet". That reassures the child that they'll be getting the sweets they are naturally predisposed to crave again soon, and ensures they'll be less likely to eat until overstuffed when they do get them.
A 2002 study in the journal Abnormal Psychology found that people who were informed they were soon to be placed on a diet ate more than those who were not. Children are similarly likely to overindulge if they don't know where their next sweeties are coming from.