A new study from the Queensland University of Technology confirmed the dangers of sugar overload in kids. The Australian research on mice found that children who overindulge in sugar risk lifelong health effects. They have a greater risk of obesity, hyperactivity, and cognitive impairment in adulthood. The study was published by Frontiers in Neuroscience on June 7.
The findings also revealed some positive news, however. When researchers gave the mice smaller daily doses of sucrose, their risk of sugar-induced weight gain and other health issues decreased. The results support WHO guidelines calling for a drastic sugar reduction for children and adults alike.
One of the lead authors, QUT neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett, revealed the seriousness of the sugar overload epidemic. She says many children, adolescents, and adults in more than 60 countries, including Australia, consume far too much sugar. Most people in these countries consume over four times the sugar (100g) recommended by the World Health Organization (25g per person per day).
“More work needs to be done in the investigation of the long-term effects of sugar on adolescents and adults, but our results with the mouse model are very promising,” said Professor Bartlett.
“Recent evidence shows obesity and impulsive behaviors caused by poor dietary habits leads to further overconsumption of processed food and beverages, but the long-term effects on cognitive processes and hyperactivity from sugar overconsumption, beginning at adolescence, are not known” said Professor Bartlett.
Sugar overload causes significant, negative physical and mental health changes.
“Our study found long-term sugar consumption (a 12-week period with the mice which started the trial at five weeks of age) at a level that significantly boosts weight gain, elicits an abnormal and excessive stimulation of the nervous system in response to novelty. It also alters both episodic and spatial memory. These results are like those reported in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.
“Human trials would need to be done, but it suggests a link to the long-term overconsumption of sugar, beginning at a young age, which occurs more commonly in the Western Diet and an increased risk of developing persistent hyperactivity and neurocognitive deficits in adulthood,” she said.
Some experts have cited sugar as a substance of abuse, much like drugs and alcohol. In fact, one study found that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. While scientists still debate the concept of ‘sugar addiction,’ it’s clear that sugar impacts brain functioning. Brain scans show that sugar consumption and drug abuse affect similar brain circuitry and molecular signaling pathways.
“People consume sugar and food to regulate energy balance, but also for pleasure and comfort. This hedonistic desire for palatable food is reward-driven, and overeating can impact upon and even override our ability to regulate,” Professor Bartlett said.
“It is increasingly considered that unrestricted consumption of high-sugar food and beverages within the Western Diet might be linked to the increased obesity epidemic. A strong association between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders and being overweight or obese have also been revealed.
“Taken together, these data suggest that sugar-induced obesity may participate to the developing pathogenesis of ADHD-like symptoms in western countries. In children, high sugar consumption correlates with hyperactivity and in adults, with inattention and impulsivity,” she says.
The study confirms sugar overload impacts health far into adulthood
“What has been unclear, though, is whether chronic overconsumption of sucrose — starting from childhood — would have the same negative impact on our nervous system, emotions, or cognition throughout adulthood as other addictive drugs,” Bartlett said.
The study on mice revealed the answer for the first time in scientific history. Long-term sugar consumption in childhood causes dramatic weight gain, hyperactivity, and cognitive impairment in adulthood.
Co-lead author Dr. Arnauld Belmer commented about an interesting observation he made. Since the 1990s, overall sugar consumption has decreased. However, in that same timeframe, obesity rates have skyrocketed. So, is sugar still to blame for the obesity crisis?
“This rise in obesity rates could result from a delayed effect of excess sugar, suggesting that adult obesity may be driven by high sugar intake over a life span,” Dr. Belmer said.
“Interestingly, our investigation with the mice found reducing the daily sucrose intake four-fold did prevent sugar-induced increase in weight gain, supporting the WHO’s recommendation to restrict sugar intake by this amount would be effective. It could also limit the other negative consequences including hyperactivity and cognitive impairment.”
A few statistics on the sugar overload in America
The average American eats over 150 pounds of sugar per year.
- An average American child consumes over 228 pounds of sugar per year.
- The average American consumes over 146 pounds of flour per year.
- Flour raises blood sugar even more than sugar.
So, how much sugar should we eat?
According to the CDC, Americans 2 years and older should keep sugar consumption to 10% or less of their daily calories. So, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars (about 12 teaspoons). Data shows that in 2017-18, children and adults ate an average of 17 teaspoons of sugar per day. Most of these calories came from sugary beverages, desserts, and snacks.
If we want to stop the sugar overload, it boils down to our daily choices. Always opt for fresh, whole foods instead of processed, sugary snacks. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages as well, as liquid calories add up very quickly. Also, don’t fall for the “healthy” drinks like smoothies and fruit juices, as your body treats all sugar equally.
- Drink more water instead of sodas.
- Do your teens drink coffee or tea? Encourage them to skip adding sweeteners to their coffee or tea.
- Teach them to choose a piece of naturally sweet fruit over baked treats.
- Prep healthy snacks kids can take on the go. They will not feel tempted to pick up a candy bar for an afternoon boost.
- Watch for hidden sugar in baked goods like bread or bagels.
- Do the kids feel tempted to snack on a sweet treat out of boredom? Go for a walk together! Distraction with exercise can keep people out of the cookie jar.
You will grow accustomed to these small changes after a few days. Soon, these will become lifelong healthy habits.
Kids and adults alike eat far too much sugar as a result of modern diets. Most of our food comes from labs nowadays, and these highly processed food-like substances have loads of sugar. They’re more convenient, but we pay for it with health problems down the road.
WHO guidelines and the Australian study have made it clear that cutting down on sugar improves health. Your cognitive performance, weight, and nervous system will all benefit from eating less sugar.