Childhood Obesity and Helping Your Kids Kick the Sugar Habit

This is the first post in our spring series on childhood obesity and we’ve got some good news. The childhood obesity trend is turning in Sweden and today, the percentage of boys suffering from overweight and obesity has shrunk to pre-1990 levels*. Kids in the US, however, are not as trim. According to the American Heart Association, “about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.” According to the CDC, “one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.”

While the CDC numbers are not as dire as those of the AHA, our kids are not faring as well as their Abba-loving brethren across the sea. Why not? In a word, sugar. It’s addictive. The more you have, the more you want, especially high fructose corn syrup. The Mayo Clinic Reports that added sugar makes up a whopping 16% of total calories in today’s kids’ diet. The recommended range is just over 5%.

There are other culprits such as processed foods, lack of exercise, larger portion sizes, and kids being force-fed ads from fast-food chains, but sugar is the biggest. While I personally prefer engaging in fun things like bike riding rather than restrictions like forgoing a cookie to manage my own weight, and believe diet and exercise work together synergistically to foster good health, we cannot ignore the sweet elephant in the room.

So how do we get our kids off sugar? Gradually. Make small changes that can become permanent. Here are some steps to help you and your kids get there:

Focus on health
Instead of focusing on something you don’t want, focus on want you do want! Where you put your mind, your body will follow. Criticism, judgment, anxiety, and negativity feed themselves. Kids who engage in or are exposed to discussion about their weight often have a higher risk of developing eating disorders.

Lead by example
Do you eat sugary sweets? Your kids will follow your example. Eat well, you’ll become energized. Your kids will want to do the same.

Avoid soda and sugary drinks
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, soda and sugary drinks are a major contributor to childhood obesity. A typical 20-ounce soda contains up to 18 teaspoons of sugar and 240 calories. “People who drink this “liquid candy” do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less.” (

Get rid of simple-carb sweets
Cookies, cake, muffins and other refined flour foods often contain large amounts of added sugar.

Use smaller plates
This is a simple way to start to control portion sizes.

Allow freedom of choice
Empower your kids to make healthy choices by offering them variety.

Teach your kids to listen to and respect their bodies
Again, lead by example. Your kids will adopt your attitude about your own body. Treat it well. Don’t do anything else while you eat – in this way you will be better to pay attention to your body and know when you are full. Are you really hungry? Or are you eating just because there is food in front of you? Slow down and notice.

Beware of hidden sugar
Some savory foods and sauces are packed with hidden sugar. Jarred pasta sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, barbecue, sweet and sour chicken or pork, coleslaw, baked beans can be loaded with sugar. Know what you’re eating. Read labels.

*, Feb 22, 2017

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