Sugar and Kids: Time For A Closer Look

Does Sugar Hurt Our Sweet Children (and us)?

I know I am setting myself up for some backlash here but I don’t care.  As I’ll say over and over again on this blog, our kids are the focus here and if I offend some adults, well, too bad.

You should know that I’m not an extreme health nut or extreme in anything I teach my kids. I’m a true believer in moderation. You can have your desserts, just not every night. You can enjoy junky food… once in a while. What we do most of the time, I believe, will determine our overall health. Just my opinion, take it or leave it.

You should also know that I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a health professional. I’m a dad and a musician. I used to own a health club many years ago and studied more about nutrition than most, I suppose, but still, I feel my body of knowledge (see what I did there?) is on par with most. I believe most people know what’s good for us and what’s not. There really are no secrets left as far as nutrition goes. However, there needs to be some serious changes in the way we eat and how we feed our kids, especially when it comes to sugar.

Fact: We have a childhood obesity problem in this country. And forget obesity, how about just a ‘child overall good health and nutrition’ problem? One in three kids in America are over weight or obese according to the American Heart Association, which has tripled since I was in kindergarten. If you look at the cause, sugar is the prime suspect every time.

Quick back story. I died a year ago. For eighteen seconds my heart stopped as I went into cardiac arrest. I had blockages in my arteries that were silent and potentially deadly. My heart attack woke me up and had me diving back into books to find answers. It was no secret or surprise to discover that sugar was the culprit. Sweet, innocent sugar. The same stuff many parents relentlessly pour into their diet.

The tough thing for me to swallow (there I go again) was that although I had my share of cookies and ice cream, it wasn’t what most people would consider to be excessive. Like many people, I eat junk in moderation, but I believe it was the hidden sugar that led to my brief dance with death.  I’m talking about the hidden sugar in juice, yogurt, pizza, pasta, tomato sauce, and a million other foods. Even bread and pasta are treated by your body as sugar. Another culprit is the supposedly low fat foods. What do they usually replace fat with? Sugar!

My favorite book on the subject is Dr. Stephen Sinatra’s “The Great Cholesterol Myth”. I highly recommend you read it immediately.

Here’s the elevator pitch. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country, and the major cause is inflammation, caused mainly from the effects of sugar. You can read about the how and why, but the bottom line is that sugar is really, really bad for you. Why then do we pump it into our kids?

I want to encourage each and every one of you to do a couple of things. First read the book I just recommended. Secondly invest (yes invest, not spend) 21:53 to watch Jamie Oliver’s Ted Talk speech.  Those two recommendations are my gift to you and your kids, and their kids, etc.

Here’s a tip I’ve heard many times by many professionals. Don’t drink your calories. Yes, that means increase your water intake. Duh, I know. We all know that. So why aren’t you doing it? Why aren’t we, as parents, insisting that our kids drink water instead of juice or soda, which are loaded with sugar?  Maybe if we all get better educated in the dangers of eating too much sugar then parents will stop allowing our kids to be super sized into poor health and obesity.

Here are three charts. They are self explanatory but they are hugely profound. The first one shows a typical day of beverage drinking. Remember that according to experts most adults should intake 2000-2500 calories per day...TOTAL! The second chart shows what it takes to burn off those extra calories. The last shows total calories in different drinks and the amount of sugar they contain.

I just want to throw my two cents in about school lunches. I don't want schools to get angry at me but I think they are smart enough to realize that there's a problem here. Many kids eat over 200 lunches a year in school. I've performed at hundreds of elementary schools and have seen many cafeteria's and lunches along the way (we usually play just before lunch time and often in the cafeteria). I've seen a total of ONE salad bar, which was ravaged by kids at lunchtime. They loved it. I'm sure it was more work then chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, etc., but isn't it worth it?

If you listen to Jamie Oliver and discover his great work fighting school lunch programs you'll understand his (and my) frustration of serving junk foods, chocolate milk, other sugar drinks, cookies, etc. In my opinion, parents should TOTALLY control the sugar/junk intake of their child. It's not that hard to do if they are not getting it at school.

So why this post? Why am I so passionate about this (other than the fact that I wouldn’t be here today had it not been for the Orangetown Ambulance Corp’s quick response to my 9-1-1 call)? Because we have to do more than just stop feeding our kids too much sugar. We have to educate them and change their habits of drinking more water and less sugary drinks; eating more fruits and vegetables and less desserts; engaging in more exercise and physical activity and less TV and video games. Remember, whatever we teach them, however they grow up eating will be passed along to their kids and so on. We all have the choice today to break any cycle we choose and start a positive one that will benefit many.

Hey, they are our children.

Leave a comment