It is fairly common knowledge that obesity amongst both adults and children is on the rise. We are all gradually becoming more aware of the effects of too much sugar on our bodies, whether that means weight gain, tooth decay, or the onset of diseases like diabetes. As such Public Health England (PHE) have put in place some snacking guidelines for children to help.
Despite our overall increase of knowledge, many of us still find ourselves feeding our children snacks which are high in sugar. At times, the high sugar content may be obvious – for instance, if a child is eating sweets or chocolate. At other times, however, parents may be unaware of the sugar content of a particular snack, or be misled by packaging or advertising.
How Much Is Too Much?
Research carried out by PHE has found that on average, a child may consume up to 3 times the recommended amount of sugar per day. This could consist of at least 3 sugary or unhealthy snacks per day.
The biggest problems are caused by what we call ‘free sugars’ which are contained in all of the following:
- Drinks containing added sugars, including fruit juices and squashes
- Flavoured yoghurts and fromage frais, which are usually aimed at children
- Some breakfast cereals, particularly those aimed at children
- Honey, syrups and nectars
- Unsweetened fruit juices
- Vegetable juices and smoothies
Even the products contained in this list which appear to be healthy and contain naturally occurring sugars, such as vegetable and fruit juices, contain these ‘free sugars’ and so should be limited as much as possible.
The recommended daily amount of sugar should be no more that 30g for an adult. To put this into perspective, one chocolate wafer biscuit can contain over 10g of sugar, while a Mars bar contains over 42g.
For children aged 7-10 years, the recommended daily limit of free sugars is 24g, while for 4-6 year olds this goes down to 19g. Again for perspective, one Barney Bear cake, a popular snack with young children, contains almost 10g of sugar, and a custard cream biscuit contains 3g. For children under 4 there is no specified limit, but it is recommended that free sugars are avoided.
The results of eating over this recommended amount of sugar on a regular basis can be life-long. Obesity and tooth decay are just two problems which can affect adults and children alike, but regularly consuming sugary snacks can result in unhealthy eating habits which can be hard to break later in life.
Snacking Guidelines For Children – The Change4Life Campaign
It is due to the rise in these problems that the Change4Life campaign has decided to focus its efforts on tackling obesity by changing the way we feed our children. The campaign will also focus on changing how food is being advertised by children and parents, attempting to limit junk food advertisements shown on TV before the 9pm watershed.
Change4Life is now recommending that our children have no more that 2 100 calorie snacks per day between meals. They provide some good examples of the best types of snacks, which include:
- Rice cakes, unsweetened and not yoghurt or chocolate coated
- Malt loaf
- Chopped vegetable such as carrot and cucumber
- Lightly salted popcorn
- Fruit -the best choices include apples and pears
Focusing On Our Children’s Diets
Whilst looking at your child’s snacking habits, we should also be aware of the amount of sugar in other every day foods. Try to utilise the traffic light system printed on food packaging: green indicates that a food contains a lower, healthier amount of sugars or fats, while red indicates a higher, unhealthy level.
Some examples of the amount of sugar contained in popular foods for children include:
- Heinz Baked Beans, half a can = 9.8g
- Coco Pops, 30g serving = 12g
- Birdseye Potato Waffles = 1g
- Fruit Shoot No Added Sugar – 2-2.5g
- Ready Brek – 0g
If you would like more information on reducing your child’s sugar intake, alongside ideas on snacks and meals, visit the Change4Life website. They provide information on healthy amounts of sugar and fat, recipes you can cook at home, activities to raise awareness of our diets, and tips on being more active. If you feel that you need further guidance, or are concerned about yours or your child’s weight or health levels, you can discuss your concerns with your GP.