Its a holy cow this thing about feeding sugar to kids. Or if it is not holy, then it is at least invisible. Wherever you go in our world, sugar will be present in kids daily intake of food. Some places less (I am very grateful that Finland can be considered such place - even attitudes here are quite sane towards sugar and crappy food), some places far more (won't mention places, but let's just say in many parts of the world this is the case). And still, although authorities, parents and other adults here in the north are cautious with feeding their kids pure sugar everyday - sadly enough many still do - and many times without even knowing about it. Or simply because there are no easily available options.
The last thing I want to do is to blame the parents. No way do I want to increase the sense of guilt in any parents. But that's just it! We parents are so busy trying to combine a hectic working life with a family life that when it comes to food, most of us just choose the alternatives that have a proven track record and that do not cause fuzz in our lives. We seldomly have the time to analyze the whole chunk - how we eat, what we eat, and what are the consequences in the long run. This got me thinking the other day...
On Friday, I was sitting in the library's study hall. It's quite empty now - all entrance exams have passed and students are more in mode of entrance party than studying for exams. But there was an exception. Two high school students (boy and girl) preparing for finals (Swedish - hoooray for their wise selection!). What shocked me was the following: It was 9:30 in the morning and they had some readings in front of them AND lollypops, soft drinks and some chocolates. My goodness! I used to be addicted to sugar when in school, but I never had candies before lunch! Not even when preparing for finals. Neither did I drink soft drinks other than at parties. It just did not work like that some 15 years ago...
The same morning there was also an article in the newspaper about the tax increases ahead next year (the debt crisis you know). Not surprisingly, I think the best option for tax increase is the one on candies, icecream and soft drinks. But the article also mentioned how much of these products Finns eat: 14 litres of icecream, 60 litres of softdrinks or juice, and 13,5 kilos of candies - per person. Per person. I can still cope with those 14 litres of icecream, and if chocolate is included in candies I still remotely understand that as well. But 60 litres of soft drinks! And that is an average.. I am quite sure most families and older people of the population do not consume such quantities (we do not drink coke with our dinner, we drink milk or water) , which pretty much leaves one segment of the population having far more than 60 litres of soft drinks per person: those in the age 15-25 years. My logic says that if they are hooked on the sugar already now, consumption can only go up as they hit the reproduction age. Maybe it will not be so uncommon with sweet drinks at the dinner table in a few years...
Where am I going with all this? The other day, I was surprised to hear that the kids sometimes receive juice to their afternoon sandwich at daycare. Both the small and the less small kids. This must be something that the service provider of the daycare food is including in their offering, and since juice for kids is so common, it has not been questioned whether it is ok or not. My wild guess is that juice is cheaper than milk and water would be "too plain" to go with a simple sandwich. This is my wildest guess and I myself do not think water is too plain, it is the best drink we have!
Dentist recommendation in this country is that no younger than three year old should drink sugar sweetened drinks (be it juice or soft drinks)! My own kids have not received juice at home before they started to understand to make a scene out of it. They have received water or milk, and they have been happy with that. Now at 1 year and 8 months G is starting to catch the drill. Note, this would have been our policy me being a anti-sugar freak or not. It is quite common to not to serve juice to small children. And still, municipal daycare can serve juice to our kids without us knowing about it.
Many times, sugar is included in the children's diet so that we make sure that they eat - because otherwise they will not eat. At least that is what we think. They will not eat. Hello! Wake up everyone! They won't eat because they know they can have something sweeter! If you give your kid two options: sandwich and juice or sandwich and water. What will your kid choose? The juice option obviously. Mine would as well. What will your kid actually put in their mouth? Well bet you that at least the juice. Sandwich? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not if juice fills the tummy and apetite is small anyway. What if only sandwich and water was served? Your kid eats the sandwich and drinks the water needed to rinse it down.
Sugar is such an institution in our society that we do not even reflect on its "to be or not to be". It just is. There. Always available. If it isn't the juice, its the jam. If it isn't the jam, its the industrial blueberry or raspberry soup. If it isn't the soup, it's the fruity yoghurts. If it isn't the yoghurt, its the hot (or cold) chocolate. And on top of that, what parents and other adults really consider being sugar: cookies, candies, icecream - served at special occasions or when having friends over at home. I bet you, the average kid in this enlighted anti-sugar country still consumes some sort of pure sugar every single day of the year.
With a sugar-filled childhood, is it then so strange that these kids go "overboard" once they hit their teens? Is it so strange that kids become obese already in primary school, and loose their will to be physically active? Is it strange that there are more kids with concentration problems in our school today than ever before? And it it so strange that both diabetes 1 and 2 are on the increase. And is it so strange that we consume 60 liters of soft drinks each year?
You might think I am overreacting here. In fact, even I can see that I am overreacting. A glass of juice once in a while will not hurt any child. I agree. However, it's not just that glass of juice, and we all know it. Thus, despite recognizing the overreaction, I can do nothing else when my instincts combined with my accumulated first hand observations just say unanimously: less sugar to kids - cut it out where its unecessary and leave it to really specially occations!
I still remember some years a go a girl in my vecinity, she was two or three, her face used to be a big big smile at parties and she used to tell me with sincerity in her voice: "Today I can have juice - because today is a party". That child had got it all right (compliments to her wise parents). In my world, afternoon snack is consumed everyday, its not part of any festivities, no special occation - it is what I would call "everyday routine".
If you want to know more, have a look at the movie clip "Sugar Trap" from 1986 (!). It's quite spacy as far as the images go - hey, it's from the time when I was a kid... - but the message is more than clear. And sadly enough, nothing has changed, or if it has - it has only gone worse, both here and in the rest of the world...
Sugar trap - Episode 1
Sugar trap - Episode 2
Sugar trap - Episode 3
Sugar trap - Episode 4
Sugar Trap - Episode 5
Sugar Trap - Episode 6