As we enter the holidays, our children will be surrounded and tempted by the treats of the season. Sugary treats are particularly abundant and there’s no harm in a small, sweet indulgence here and there. But it’s important to keep in mind that those indulgences are on top of an already sneaky, contributor to our daily intake of calories. To avoid sugar-shock in your child this season, consider pulling back on their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks to counter-balance calorie intake from holiday candies, cookies and cakes. Even better, ride the momentum you create in minimizing sugar drinks into 2015 and beyond. Here’s why and how.
Why? Because obesity is an epidemic.
Obesity is viewed by many health experts to be the most serious national health problem of our time. Even more concerning, indications are that the epidemic is more significant in Illinois, particularly for our children.
In Illinois, 63.7 percent of adults are considered overweight with 27.7 percent being obese.(1) When you view this data alongside estimates that U.S. children today may face a shorter lifespan than their parents as a result of the devastating effects of obesity,(1) the alarm bells ring more loudly. Add next the fact that Illinois is one of the top ten states for obese/overweight children (aged 10 to 17)(1) and the alarm bells become deafening.
In my PediaPath blog post on Oct. 27, I shared that heading off or addressing obesity successfully with your child is a process that requires time and baby steps. But there is a first step that delivers a quick, meaningful punch to obesity and, although it may seem counter-intuitive to take that step during the holidays, perhaps that’s not too far-fetched.
How? Cutting down adds up.
The average 12-ounce can of cola contains 39 grams of sugar. You might say to yourself, “So what? Grams aren’t that big.” When I explain to parents that 4 grams of sugar equal one teaspoon, their jaws generally drop. Applying that math as I have below to some of the more popular drinks among kids today evokes an even greater, deer-in-the-headlights response:
Teaspoons of Sugar
Calories (16 calories per tsp.)
Nearly 10 teaspoons
Nearly 9 teaspoons
Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino*** (2% milk, no whipped cream)
Nearly 17 teaspoons
Consumption levels of these drinks among youth today are staggering. 80 percent consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage in an average day. (1)Drinking one can of cola per day adds more than 1,100 calories to your child’s diet per week. If you cut consumption to three cans per week, you would cut the weekly intake of calories by more than half. Consider this strategy: Urge your child to cut back on their sugar drink of choice during the holidays. Then, when the New Year arrives and the holiday treats are no longer in the mix, point out to your child that since they were able to pull back successfully already, they should keep up the good work and maintain that reduced consumption of sugary drinks all year.
There are a number of reasons that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks creep into our children’s diets steadily over time. First, these drinks begin to become a regular component of the daily diet as opposed to a treat. The holiday strategy I’m recommending could begin to reverse that trend. In addition, many restaurants have pop machines where you can serve yourself and refills are free. What’s to stop a child from taking full advantage of that? Lastly, it’s frightening to say, but pop is generally cheaper than bottled water. While parents’ intentions to save money are good, their purchase of these drinks comes with a cost to the health of the entire family.
It will come as no surprise that the best alternative to sugary drinks, hands-down, is water. There are a number of ways to make water more appealing. There are many all natural, flavored waters with zero calories on the market. I suggest the ones without artificial sweeteners, too, and they come in terrific flavors. Also, you can make your own flavored water with a fruit-infusion pitcher – a great way to spend less money on drinks! These pitchers have a tube that run down the middle in which you place any fruits or vegetables such as lemons, limes, oranges or cucumbers. Place them in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days worth of instant, cold, flavored water.
You can learn even more through the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity (IAPO) “Rethink Your Drink” campaign, dedicated to helping us identify and choose healthy beverages. Using a traffic-light system, they categorize drinks in red (drink rarely), yellow (drink occasionally) and green (drink plenty) categories. This system is fun and easy to implement and I highly recommend it!
1 IAPO “Rethink Your Drink” Healthy Beverage Toolkit for Healthcare