The concerns over the effects of high sugar diets on children are nothing new. Experts have warned for some time that young children consuming too much sugar can lead to obesity, which can increase the risk of other health conditions in later life including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. There have also been plenty of warnings that excess sugar can lead to dental problems like tooth decay, which children are particularly vulnerable to.
Experts recommend that children aged 7-10 have a maximum of 24g of sugar daily, and for children aged 4-6 no more than 19g of sugar should be consumed. However, figures released by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) show that the UK is far from meeting this target. As well as a large proportion of the UK population admitting that they consume too much saturated fat and not enough fruit and vegetables, it also showed that children are drinking a worrying amount of sugary drinks.
Of the children between 4 and 10 surveyed, it found that they drank an average of 100ml of high sugar drinks between 2012 and 2014, making up 13% of their daily calorie intake. The official recommendations suggest that they should make up a maximum of 5% of their daily calories. Even more worryingly, it found that teenagers in the UK consumed 3 times the recommended daily sugar allowances that are set out for adults.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said “This data provides compelling evidence that we all need to eat more fruit, veg, fibre and oily fish and cut back on sugar, salt and saturated fat to improve our health. While it is encouraging that young children are having fewer sugary drinks, they still have far too much sugar in their diet overall, along with teenagers and adults. To help tackle this, PHE is launching a programme to challenge the food industry to remove at least 20% of the sugar in its products by 2020. It’s an ambitious programme, a world first, and will be a significant step on the road to reducing child obesity levels.”
The “sugar addiction” is also leading to a rise in the number of children having teeth removed due to them being rotted by sugar. Data released by the NHS has shown that 170 children and teenagers a day had tooth extraction operations in 2016/2017 – costing a total of £36.2 million.
The LGA’s community wellbeing board chair, councillor Izzi Seccombe, said: “The fact that, due to the severity of the decay, 170 operations a day to remove teeth in children and teenagers have to be done in a hospital is alarming and also adds to current pressures on the NHS. This concerning trend shows there is an urgent need to introduce measures to curb our sugar addiction which is causing children’s teeth to rot.”
An NHS England spokesperson added “NHS dental care for children is free, and tooth decay is preventable, but eating sugary food and drinks is driving this unfortunate and unnecessary epidemic of extractions. NHS England is working with the dental profession, local authorities and health providers and has developed Starting Well – a campaign targeted at high-need communities to help children under five see their dentist earlier and improve their dental health. In supporting the ‘Dental Check by One’ campaign, NHS England is working with the dental profession to help an additional 70,000 more children see a dentist before they reach their second birthday.”
But with high sugar consumption and the number of children being classed as overweight or obese growing; what can be done to prevent some of the risks associated with poor diets? Alongside the new tax of fizzy drinks being introduced this April, the government has introduced the Childhood Obesity Plan which it hopes will encourage manufacturers, retailers and restaurants to reduce the amount of sugar in its products. This programme has also been designed to target foods that contribute the most to the high sugar intake in children’s diets.