Sugary treats for children? More dangerous than you think

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"Pack a 'snack box' for your child for every day of the Easter weekend, and even for the duration of the school holidays." Photo: Getty Images
"Pack a 'snack box' for your child for every day of the Easter weekend, and even for the duration of the school holidays." Photo: Getty Images

Sweet treat temptations are everywhere, and even more so at Easter and Christmas and at every birthday party...

But parents are being cautioned to be vigilant of the sugar that their children consume, especially given exceeding the daily recommended amount of sugar is dangerous for younger children later on in life.

"Easter eggs can be a fun treat for children, especially if combining them with a treasure hunt, which is tradition this time of year. But they are high in fat and sugar, which, when consumed in large amounts, can cause grogginess, tiredness and a change in temperament," explains Dr Iqbal Karbanee.

Dr Iqbal Karbanee is a paediatrician and CEO of Paed-IQ BabyLine, a trusted telephonic medical advice service for the first 1000 days of a child's life, starting from conception to birth and beyond.

He adds that in extreme cases, for little ones, too much sugar can also cause the body to not be able to process it, and can result in vomiting.

Read: How nutrition effects your toddler's sleep 

Unhealthy habits later in life 

He explains that eating too much sugar can set the tone for unhealthy habits later in life. "In the long-term, too much sugar increases the risk of chronic diseases, such as obesity, which is complicated and can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Both these lifestyle diseases are 100% preventable," says Karbanee.

"Furthermore, diabetes can occur in children from a very young age. Although far less common than adult onset diabetes, when it does occur it has major impact on the child and family."

He says that it is not a low rate of physical activity, but rather a poor diet, that can lead to obesity. He adds that childhood obesity, coupled with the paradox of under-nutrition, has reached epidemic proportions in South Africa, and Covid-19 has only made it worse.

"Obesity is a co-morbidity meaning that if your child is suffering from carrying excess weight, he or she is at increased risk of complications if diagnosed with the Coronavirus," says Karbanee.

He adds that kids are also experiencing anxiety and strange behaviour due to Covid-19. "Adding loads of sugar to the diet of a kid during Easter who is already suffering from anxiety may seem like a way to reduce stress and relax children, but it may only actually serve to exacerbate anxiety or other behaviours due to the effect of too much sugar on the body," says Karbanee.

Also read: Waffles and Mochi: Why children's food shows need to focus on healthy eating

Tips for life-long healthy habits 

Here are Dr Karbanee's top tips on how to limit sugar this Easter, which can help to create life-long healthy habits.

1. Start with a healthy breakfast every day. Children must have breakfast before they start their day. This meal should consist of cereal, preferably high fibre as well as fruit and some long-acting carbohydrate. An example is low GI bread. Parents should try to avoid sugary cereals. Oatmeal is a great source of soluble fibre.

2. Pack a 'snack box' for your child on special occasions, and even for the duration of the school holidays. The lunch box should contain wholesome snacks. Dried fruit, nuts, yoghurt, vegetable sticks like carrots and cucumber are great. Two slices of bread are usually enough.

3. Try and limit the amount of high-fat content in the bread. It is best to keep the cheese and polonies to a minimum. Water is best and fruit juices and all sugary drinks should be kept to a minimum. This will keep your child out of the 'sweet' cupboard and will also keep them full.

4. You can create a fun snack box every day with a surprise like a small toy or a note or a hand-drawn picture to keep your children excited to see what is in their box for the day. If you are taking a break and going on a holiday with your children, whether during Easter or for the school holidays, try to limit meals out and have lunch or dinner at home.

5. A special focus on having a simple healthy meal at home will help to keep a good routine during the holidays. If you are keeping your children entertained throughout the holidays by planning fun activities, remember that they need energy from healthy sources for busy days.

6. The meal should be balanced with not too much fat, and sugar. A healthy serving of vegetables is great. Instead of a hunt for Easter eggs in the garden, can you do a treasure hunt for a variety of small and cost-effective toys, with only a small amount of treats?

7. Lead by example. This may be a chance for the whole family to make healthier choices and changes should be extended to the whole family.

Neither should this be a temporary change, but should become part of a lifestyle that can have positive effects on the whole family.

Submitted to Parent24 by Paed-IQ BabyLine 

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