Skip to main content
Hidden Sugars Could Contribute to Childhood Obesity

You are listening to Healthy Kids Zone:

Hidden Sugars Could Contribute to Childhood Obesity

Nov 05, 2018

How much sugar is too much for kids? Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner explains that a sugar-loaded diet contributes to childhood obesity. She recommends that children have no more than 45 grams of sugar in a day—the equivalent of about 15 sugar cubes—even when it comes to foods that we generally consider healthy, such as fruit juice and yogurt.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Kids love sugar. That's a known fact. But are kids eating too much hidden sugar? Could that be contributing to childhood obesity rates? I'll discuss this on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the "Healthy Kids Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Kids are born with a sweet tooth. That's why babies and young kids like fruits more than veggies. Sugar can actually be in more foods than you think. And often, parents aren't good about figuring out how much sugar is really in their kids' diet. So what does this all mean?

Well, more than 18% of elementary school aged kids in the United States actually meet the criteria for obesity. A child is obese if their body mass index or BMI is above the 95th percentile. If you don't know what your child's BMI is, ask at the next doctor's appointment. Often, it can easily be calculated by your child's pediatrician using your child's weight and height and plotting in on a chart based on their age.

While there are many causes of childhood obesity, too much sugar in the diet is definitely a factor. In 2015, the World Health Organization recommended that everyone, regardless of their age, should have less than 10% of all of their calories every day from sugar. For kids, this means no more than about 45 grams of sugar a day. Well, of course, kids can't figure that out on their own. If it was up to them, many of them would eat cookies for lunch every day. I know some adults that would too. That's where parental control comes in.

Just for some examples. Think about what foods that a lot of kids like, juice, yogurt, pizza, ketchup, pretty much the staples in a lot of kids' diets. Then think about sugar content in terms of sugar cubes. A sugar cube contains about three grams of sugar. So doing the math, kids should have about 15 sugar cubes a day.

When researchers studied parent's abilities to estimate how much sugar is in certain foods, they found that about 75% of parents underestimated sugar content. For example, about 90% of parents underestimated the amount of sugar in yogurt. Yogurt is considered a healthy food, but can have a lot of sugar, especially if kids had bigger portions or more than one serving a day.

One thing that researchers found even more concerning was that those children who are more overweight had parents who underestimated sugar content the greatest. Think about juice. Parents think that 100% juice means it's healthy. Their kids are drinking fruit, but it's juice loaded with sugar.

So how can you help your child keep their sugar content under control? Serve more veggies and real fruit. Read food labels and avoid foods that are high in sugar. Watch out for that hidden sugar like high fructose corn syrup. That's basically sugar, but that's not what it's called on the label. And keep your child's portion appropriate for their age.

Announcer: Have a question about a medical procedure? Want to learn more about a health condition? With over 2,000 interviews with our physicians and specialists, there's a pretty good chance you'll find what you want to know. Check it out at