• Added sugars are a big deal

    As I continue my three month weight-loss kick (which I still promise to write about), I could not help but be interested in a study from the CDC, Consumption of added sugar among U.S. children and adolescents, 2005-2008. Let’s start with a definition of “added sugars”:

    Added sugars include all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table. Examples of added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose, and dextrin.

    So let’s own that these are added ingredients, specifically sugar. It’s not glucose that’s normally in food. The question is, how many calories of added sugar are kids eating?

    The average boy is getting 362 calories a day from added sugar. The average girl gets 282 calories from added sugar. And remember, this is the average. It’s very likely that a significant number of kids are getting way more than this. What percent of their calories come from added sugar?

    For boys, it’s more than 16%. For girls, it’s more than 15%. Again, this is the average, so for many kids it’s much higher than that.

    As we talk about how hard it is to combat obesity, it’s worth thinking about numbers like this once in a while. If we could get kids to give up half, not even all, of the added sugar in their diet, their overall calorie consumption would drop by 8%. They’d be dropping about 140-180 calories a day from their diet. And those calories are totally empty – they’re from added sugars they don’t need, and that won’t satiate them. When other research shows that reducing your caloric intake by 20 (yes, twenty) calories per day for three years could lead to an average weight loss of 2 pounds, making this small change could be a big deal.

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    • If sugar is the problem why has pet (dog and cat) obesity been rising along with child obesity.

      The most likely common cause is that food has gotten more affordable for parents and pet owners. (I wonder if children in large families are thinner).

      This would imply that if they ate less sugar they would eat more of something else.

      Now, I am open to the idea that more fat and less carbohydrates would make people feel satisfied consuming fewer calories but that is far from proven.

    • After being on a permanent weight loss kick for a year, I’ve figured something out that is probably correlated to this post. Processed food like most bread, pasta, crackers and other snack foods don’t really do anything for me. I like them and I eat them in moderation but they just don’t satisfy me. I think it’s because of the added sugar in them and the empty calories they contain.

      Anecdatally, I do eat less sugar and more of other things now. Things like meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, nuts and other whole foods. Is that practical and economically viable for everyone? No, it isn’t and I know I’m lucky to be able to do it. Turning that into policy could start with making whole foods accessible to everyone, both economically and physically.

    • I’m sure there’s a correlation between sugar intake as a percentage of total calories and obesity, but I’d be surprised if it weren’t a marker for a more complicated set of dynamics in the sort of home that will tend to produce a disproportionate number of obese kids/teenagers no matter what kind of top-down in-school diet manipulation we attempt – if the association between sugar intake and obesity leads us down that path.

      Incidentally – have there been any public sector campaigns anywhere, at any time, that have had any long term effect on the obesity rates amongst any population?

      This just isn’t the sort of problem that a public health campaign is going to be able to do much of anything about in a liberal democracy where people are free to choose things like whether they want to eat celery and hit the treadmill or slam a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and hit the couch.

      People have the right to be obese, and they have the right to transmit a litany of dysfunctional and destructive personal habits and beliefs to their children – we’d be much better of focusing on public health problems that we can actually do something about, of which there are many.