Childhood Obesity: Sugar switches & small steps

Published 18 April, 2024

Data, released by the NHS in 2021, shows that almost 15% of reception-aged children are now obese, and over 40% of children weigh more than is recommended as they enter secondary school. Whilst the UK government has reiterated its ambitions to halve childhood obesity before 2030, maintaining a healthy and sustainable weight can prove difficult in an environment, dominated by unhealthy food and drink marketed towards children.

Sugar can appear to be everywhere, from breakfast juices, quick snacks, through to desserts and treats. Therefore, it can be challenging to stay on track with guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO recommend that children should consume only 5% of their daily intake from sugar, as this is associated with health benefits.

One easy way to reduce sugar in a child’s diet is through reducing their consumption of sugary drinks. These can include fizzy drinks, sports / energy drinks and even fruit juices despite having no added sugar. One regular can of Coca-Cola contains more sugar than the WHO recommends children consume in a whole day. In addition, some manufacturers add sugar to such fruit juices, but the process of juicing itself, often eliminates the beneficial fibre which can be found in whole fruits.

Consider making these healthy swaps:

  • Encourage children to drink water and / or milk, in place of sugary drinks
  • Provide portions of whole fruit, as a healthier alternative to fruit juice

Whole fruit and vegetables contain water and fibre, both of which will help children feel full for longer. By encouraging children to eat more unprocessed foods, added sugars are more easily accounted for within their diets. Reducing children’s consumption of processed foods can present its own challenges, it can feel more time consuming and more expensive. However, packing snacks ahead of time, such as hummus, vegetables to dip, trail mixes and nuts, alongside whole fruits, can lower added sugar intake, save time across the week, and have the added benefit of travelling well.

Finally, cooking at home can help in keeping track of what your children are eating. To enhance taste and flavour Restaurants often add more sugar, salt, and fat to their meals, than you might do at home.

Establishing daily meal and snack times, planning ahead, mindful eating and sensible portions, can help to build healthy and sustainable habits. Involving children in this process, by shopping for healthier foods, and planning menus together, encourages them to be more aware of their nutritional choices. This will help them in developing a lifelong focus on the importance of a healthy diet.

Top Tips:

Switch from high sugar milkshakes and sports drinks, to milk and water, alongside a piece of whole fruit, to help in satisfying any hunger pangs and sweet tooth cravings
Changes are best made by involving the whole family, this helps to establish healthy eating habits and creates a supportive environment


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