Sugar, you shrunk the kids: bouquet of diseases nestled inside your child’s nutritious drinks

Were you a fan of nutritional drinks as a kid? There is an extremely high probability that every cup of milk you consumed was made with a pre-mix that was about 50 percent sugar. Maybe you licked the delicious cup twice a day, maybe even with a spoonful or two of sugar.
Experts say this habit has likely persisted or worsened into your adulthood, paving the way for the bitter nickname. world capital of diabetes for India

The issue of so-called nutritional drinks has come to the fore in recent weeks after the latest Nestlé Cerelac controversy highlighted how the brands have been using “added sugar” in baby products. However, denying the allegations, Nestle’s spokesperson told ET Online that reducing added sugars is a priority for the brand.

According to an analysis by ET Online, some prominent health drinks contain almost 40-45 grams of total sugar (including added sugar) per 100 grams. These products suggest that customers use almost 2 scoops per serving, which is about 20 grams of quantity. This therefore implies that children are getting more than the recommended amount of sugar on a daily basis.

There is a maximum recommended intake of sugar per day by age group. For children aged four to six, 19g (5 teaspoons) is recommended. For children aged seven to ten, an intake of 24g (6 teaspoons) of sugar is recommended. For children 11 and older, the recommended intake of sugar is 30 grams (7 teaspoons), explained Rajiv Chhabra, a pediatrician at Artemis Hospital.

How much sugar is too much?
As sweet as sugar is just a nice compliment, not a nice lifestyle mantra! With an abundance of sugary foods and drinks available and easily accessible, it’s essential to understand the limits. Parents should follow specific guidelines and recommendations regarding their children’s daily sugar intake. World Health Organization guidelines do not recommend sugar for babies, said Rajeswari V. Shetty, who heads SL’s Dietetics department. Hospital Raheja-a Fortis Associat.

WHO recommends that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake. The term free sugars refers to all sugars added to food or drinks, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, he added.

In India, home to 101 million diabetics, the habit of consuming sugar from childhood is a growing concern that could have lasting repercussions for the nation’s youth in the coming decades.

From the moment babies are introduced to solid foods, they are often exposed to high levels of sugar, setting the stage for a potential health crisis down the road.

But where does this begin?
Do you remember how your parents, grandparents, guests used to give you chocolates or ice cream as a reward for your achievements? During the early years of infancy, parents and caregivers often turn to sugary foods and drinks to pacify or reward babies.

According to health experts, excessive sugar consumption in childhood can have harmful effects on children’s health.

Many health problems have been linked to high consumption of sugary drinks, including tooth decay and enamel erosion, short sleep duration, hyperactivity, increased blood pressure, and dyslipidemia. Regular consumption of SSB can cause tooth erosion. It can also lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and even depression. Heart problems are increasing in children, Shetty said.

Meanwhile, maternity hospitals pediatrician Dr Nishant Bansal explained that high sugar intake over a period of time can also lead to kidney failure. When children consume large amounts of sugar, their kidneys have to work harder to excrete excess sugar from the body through urine. Over time, this increased workload can stress the kidneys and potentially lead to kidney damage or dysfunction, especially in children who are already predisposed to kidney disease due to other factors such as genetic predisposition or underlying medical conditions. Bansal said.

What’s more, these habits formed during childhood tend to persist into adulthood, raising concerns about the long-term impact of early sugar exposure on the health and well-being of future generations.

A devil wrapped in a colorful package
A colorful wrapper with a cartoon character or two and a gift is enough to entice children to consume sugary products.

Artificial colors and artificial flavors are also sometimes used to make these products more palatable.

This consumption is often exacerbated by aggressive marketing tactics used by brands to promote products containing added sugar for babies and toddlers.

From sugary cereals to fruit-flavored drinks, these products are often passed off as nutritious options while hiding high levels of sugar behind attractive packaging and misleading health claims.

Brands continue to market sugar-rich products to children despite the known health risks because they know that most children are addicted to these products and parents cannot turn down their children’s demands for these products. Sugar itself is addictive, so once a baby or toddler gets a taste of it, they want more and more of that type of product. Businesses are thriving there, Fortis Shetty said.

Brands may have abandoned the ‘health’ label of these drinks and resorted to using sugar alternatives, but is that enough?

A need for awareness
Despite growing awareness of the health risks associated with sugar consumption, many parents remain unaware of the hidden sugars hidden in everyday foods and the importance of establishing healthy eating habits from an early age.

Speaking on the issue, Dr. Sangeeta Tiwari, Clinical Nutritionist, Artemis Lite NFCs, said: People and communities in India can advocate for healthier food choices and combat the prevalence of sugary products marketed to children by a comprehensive approach.

The approach may include measures such as raising awareness of the health risks associated with excessive sugar intake, lobbying policy makers for stricter regulations on unhealthy food advertising to children, supporting local initiatives to promote access to fresh and nutritious food, advocate for nutritious meals in schools, collaborate with food manufacturers to develop and promote healthier alternatives, and set positive examples through personal dietary choices, he added.

By collectively addressing these factors, individuals and communities can actively work to foster a healthier food environment for children in India, said Dr. Tiwari.

Over the past few years, brands have also begun to reduce the use of “added sugar.” Government authorities have also played an important role in initiating this change.

As a result of the FSSAI’s recent action, which directed brands to stop promoting products with high sugar content in the ‘healthy drinks’ category, several major brands have amended their rules.

Recently, HUL dropped the health tag of Horlicks and rebranded it as Functional Nutrition Drink (FND). Mondelez, Cadbury’s parent brand, withdrew Bournvita from the same category.

Even Nestlé clarified about the reduction in sugar content. In a statement, it said: “Over the past 5 years, we have already reduced added sugars by up to 30%, depending on the variant. We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising nutrition, quality, safety and taste.”

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