That Sugar Movement


Sugar, learning, and our kids

160404_TSF_FBPostWhen it comes to sugar and kids there are a few things that are important to consider. What effect does sugar have on our kids? Does it impact their learning and development? And how about ways to teach kids about food? Lets take a look!

How does sugar affect kids?

The excess consumption of sugar by children has been linked to weight gain and type II diabetes. Not good.

A study of 4880 children aged 3 – 11 measured a series of metabolic disease markers, as well as waist circumference and body mass index (BMI)1. Children who consumed more sugar sweetened beverages were shown to have an increase in waist circumference, high density lipoprotein (HDL) and C-reactive protein (an indicator of inflammation)1. Certain associations were also made between sugar-sweetened beverage intake and BMI in some age groups (in particular children aged 9 – 11 years old)1.

Several other studies have also shown that children who have as little as one sugar-sweetened beverage per day are more prone to weight gain than children who have beverages not sweetened with sugar2. Not surprisingly, many studies have also shown that excess sugar is a risk factor for dental caries in children3.


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

It has been found that children who consume a low glycemic index (GI), high fibre breakfast (like the humble porridge), as apposed to a high glycemic index breakfast (like Nutri-grain), have improved memory and auditory function6.

So, for a sure fire kick start to your child’s day, best to stick to the low GI wholefoods for breakfast!

This could look like a bowl of whole oats or porridge, topped with some berries, a dollop of plain Greek or coconut yoghurt, some vanilla and cinnamon. Or for a savoury option, try an egg omelette with some baby spinach and grated zucchini, on a slice of sourdough dizzled with olive oil. Yum!

The question is – how do we get our munchkins to eat what is best for them?

How do kids learn about food?

What is of huge importance for the future is to understand how kids learn about food and how their preferences develop. It has been shown that during infancy, food preferences can develop from genetically determined predispositions (e.g. sweet vs. salty flavors)7. What seems to be more important however, is experiences with food during infancy and childhood7.

Some research indicates that parents play a vital role in the development of their child’s eating behaviors, food preferences and energy intake7. More importantly, these habits learned in childhood are likely to persist into adulthood.

So what is the best way to teach kids about food? Research suggests that repeated exposure to new vegetables helps to increase their intake, relative to other strategies such as pairing a new flavor with an old one or pairing a new flavor with fats or sugars8.

Here are a few other tips and tricks from our team:

  • Get kids involved! Whether through having their own vege patch or helping with food prep, this interaction is key in engaging them!
  • Don’t focus too much on making foods taboo, rather focus on the things they should be eating most. Present treats as a “sometimes food” (if it’s labeled as a treat, chances are they will want it more!)
  • Encourage eating foods together. Children learn eating habits by imitating those around them.
  • Offer nutrient dense foods. Avoid ‘treating’ children with unhealthy foods when they do not eat their meals. Offer healthy options if you are concerned your child is not eating, otherwise it makes choosing healthier foods more difficult for the child in the long run.
    Please note: if your child is persistently refusing foods, please consult with your healthcare practitioner.

All in all, the more we can understand about sugar and our kids the better! What we do know is that excess consumption of sugar, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, can lead to an increase in metabolic disease markers and weight gain in children. More is yet to be discovered on how sugar specifically affects kids learning, but we do know that low GI whole foods are best to aid their learning and retention.

Get your kids involved and have fun with food – it’s the best way to learn!



  1. Kosova, E. C., Auinger, P. & Bremer, A. A. The Relationships between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake and Cardiometabolic Markers in Young Children. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113, 219–227 (2013).
  2. de Ruyter, J. C., Olthof, M. R., Seidell, J. C. & Katan, M. B. A Trial of Sugar-free or Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Body Weight in Children. New Engl J Med 367, 1397–1406 (2012).
  3. Harris, R., Nicoll, A. D., Adair, P. M. & Pine, C. M. Risk factors for dental caries in young children: a systematic review of the literature. Community Dent Health 21, 71–85 (2004).
  4. Wolraich, M. L., Wilson, D. B. & White, J. W. The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children. A meta-analysis. Jama-J Am Med Assoc 274, 1617–1621 (1995).
  5. Ells, L. J. et al. A systematic review of the effect of dietary exposure that could be achieved through normal dietary intake on learning and performance of school-aged children of relevance to UK schools. Br. J. Nutr. 100, 927–936 (2008).
  6. Mahoney, C. R., Taylor, H. A., Kanarek, R. B. & Samuel, P. Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiol. Behav. 85, 635–645 (2005).
  7. Scaglioni, S., Salvioni, M. & Galimberti, C. Influence of parental attitudes in the development of children eating behaviour. Br. J. Nutr. 99, S22–S25 (2008).
  8. Caton, S. J. et al. Repetition counts: repeated exposure increases intake of a novel vegetable in UK pre-school children compared to flavour-flavour and flavour-nutrient learning. Br. J. Nutr. 109, 2089–2097 (2013).
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