Are you frustrated as a parent trying to manage the sweets, lollies, and other unhealthy snacks/treats in your household? Do your children constantly raid the pantry and kitchen cupboards and steal sweets or other junk food when you're not looking? If this is happening to you then you are not the only parent to be met with this problem of child addicted to sweets syndrome.
And yes, children being addicted to lollies, chocolates, biscuits, etc is a very real disorder, which can (if left unattended) cause major health, psychological, and behavioural problems; but thankfully, there are ways to combat your child's hunger for sugar. I'll cover more about how to regulate your child's consumption of sugar a little later in this article.
Firstly though, I'm writing this article as a parent with you and NOT as a person preaching at you because there's nothing worse than another person such as a health professional or even family member scoffing at the way parents bring up their children and offering blunt, shallow, advice on what you should be doing in the best welfare interests of your own kids. Often these people don't acknowledge the grey areas of the problem, which are usually the hardest areas to tackle and it infuriates me when parents are chest poked to "do the right thing" for their kids sake when the rest of society stands back with their hands in the air acting like their not part of the problem or solution.
Secondly, and speaking about health professionals, I'm not one… My advice and information comes from my own experiences, in-depth research from many sources, and my fanatical interest in subjects such as this, so whilst I truly believe what I write and advocate methods that have worked for me I still do recommend you seek professional guidance if you are searching for a solution to a major heath problem concerning you or your child.
Now with all disclaimers out of the way, I'd like to also mention my referring to sugar as a drug and addictive is not based on any scientific evidence but I don't care because neither was smoking or alcohol considered addictive (or even drugs) several decades ago until we finally found out the real truth. Nevertheless, it still didn't stop people speculating and warning others about the dangers of consuming such products whilst the scientific proof was catching up with the anecdotical evidence.
Childhood sugar addiction
Anecdotical evidence of childhood sugar addiction is what my wife and I see in our own youngest child. If you are a regular reader of my articles you'd know how important a healthy lifestyle is to me and my family. We grow our own fruit and vegetables, practise healthy eating, and get plenty of regular exercise through sport, recreational activities, hobbies (like gardening), or personal fitness etc. Therefore, you would expect sugar (or the regulation of it) in our household to be a pretty easy thing to do and it is for most of the time but to be honest with you we still have to fight every day against the scourge of sugar addiction.
See, as much as we do wholeheartedly believe in living a healthy lifestyle I still do like to indulge occasionally and I really don't think this is a bad thing. For example, I enjoy a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee and regardless of my personal stance against junk food we still get the odd takeaway, and buy treats for us and the kids to eat – we all enjoy eating these things… in moderation. I'm not going to be one of those parents who run their household like some disciplined army camp forbidding all junk food because I think this approach is counter productive and only leads down a path of deceit, unhappiness, over regulation, and lollie wrappers found under pillows.
Largely this approach does work for us, we educate our children about the dangers of over eating on sugar based foods and other junk food in general. Our kids don't ever have a problem eating their greens because they've grown up eating fresh salads and vegetables from our garden. Yet despite all this, there's something about sugar that obscures the better judgement of our youngest child and makes him crave for it like some drug addict looking for any opportunity to get their next hit.
I know it might sound like I'm over analysing or exaggerating how sugar affects my son but I can tell you the signs and symptoms he shows are similar to those seen in people addicted to illicit drugs like heroin or crystal meth. It starts by his craving to have something sweet, followed by going through an expectation period where he excitedly looks forward to his "sugar fix," then into a euphoric phase where he relishes the experience, then onto a crazy stage where he can sometimes become quite hyperactive, ending on a downer where he's either feeling flat or seeking another sugar hit as the cycle starts again. Now if that isn't drug addiction, well then I don't know what is…
Our oldest child doesn't have the same affection to sweets and neither did I as a child, but for some reason our youngest has a fascination with sugar and luckily for him his parents are fully aware and taking action. We first noticed his "problem" when he was a toddler although it never posed much of a problem because we just regulated his diet and ensured sweets were kept out of reach and treats were moderated. However, as he got older and more able (now at 9 years old) to access cupboards and the refrigerator his love of sugar become more prominent to the point where it was obvious he really did have an addiction!
We've always had rules concerning what and when to eat at home. Our kids are allowed to eat and snack as much as they like from the garden on fruit and vegetables but they must always ask permission before taking packaged food from the cupboards/pantry or fridge. If that rule was broken we'd impose a suitable punishment and for a good 8 years this system worked well until in the past 12 months we started noticing sweet food going missing right underneath our noses. On further inspection, we would actually find wrappers under pillows! And, in other places like hidden in clothes draws, school bag, cubby house, and of course in the bin.
Let me be clear, we're not the type of people who buy a lot of hard junk food anyway. For example, we rarely buy soft drinks – coke is a real treat and usually only consumed at parties, special occasions, or when we go out etc, and we buy a 4 x packet of ice-creams maybe once a month so we certainly wouldn't be considered regular eaters of junk. Nevertheless, you know there's a problem with sugar addiction when your child starts rummaging through the pantry and breaking open the cooking chocolate my wife uses to bake her brownies about once every 6 months. Yes, that's right… He was stealing cooking chocolate! Dare I say the word again – ADDICTED.
How we stopped our child from stealing sugar/sweets
In the end, despite our range of discipline measures it became apparent to us that the urge for our son to consume sugar was bigger than any threat or measure of discipline we could impose – it just wasn't working. Therefore, we brainstormed what other measures we could take such as placing a lock on the pantry but this measure would be impractical since we do spend a lot of time in our kitchen opening and closing the pantry so to have it locked would drive us all crazy. Furthermore, to lock our whole pantry for the sake of a few sugary snacks was just stupid anyway. So we ventured down the line of a small lockable cupboard or container and whilst I was looking for a suitable product in our local hardware store (Bunnings) I walked past the safe section and bingo!
A safe was the answer – just a small one – I mean, if a small safe isn't enough room for a family to hold their sugar junk food then perhaps they should revise how much sugar they buy. Knowing we only have limited space for sweets also helps keep us in check to not over purchase these nutrient deficient potentially harmful sugary foods. The size of our safe is 38cm wide x 30cm high x 30cm deep (15 x 12 x 12 inches) and this is plenty big enough plus it only cost $139 (links to buying safes online are at the end of this article). My wife and I find the 4 digit code and simple operation second nature and the safe fits into our pantry cupboard perfectly. We laugh at the prospect of thieves breaking into our home one day and running off with our safe only to find it contains junk food!
Seriously though, our children (especially the youngest) quickly came to terms with our new method to stop sugar theft and it has worked a treat (pardon the pun). There's no cat and mouse games of hiding the sweets or issues of deceit and lying about stolen junk foods, nope, everything is back to normal. Most importantly, we know what our children are eating so we can control their intake of sugar and keep them as healthy as possible. At the same time we continue to educate our kids about food and especially about the potential bad effects of eating too much sugar so when they become old enough to make decisions about what they eat they hopefully will consume high sugar foods in moderation like we know to do.
Can childhood sugar addiction lead to adult sugar addiction?
Yes, I think it can and does! Of course, not in all cases because most adults understand what is good and bad for them so just like adults quit smoking after taking it up as a teenager they also quit eating so much junk food. Unfortunately, there is a growing percentage of adults (just like smokers) who simply find it too difficult to quit sugar regardless of their better judgement and this often leads to dangerous health problems developing. Most of time these dietary related health problems have developed through childhood and are carried over into adulthood; therefore, imagine how hard it would be for someone like this who's body and mind is conditioned to consuming large quantities of sugar daily to cut back on their intake or stop cold turkey.
Adult sugar addiction isn't always evident by body shape either and this is another misconception that it's only fat people who have a problem with sugar. Sure, obesity can be a telling sign of sugar over consumption but people can be skinny and eat too much sugar consequently suffering major health issues also. I've seen adult sugar addiction first hand and a particular work colleague comes to mind who couldn't go more than a few hours without a can of coke and another example was a friend who at just 21 years old just recently lost the top front row of his teeth due to sugary drinks and food. Both of these guys were normal weight, seemingly fit and healthy young men who had a major addiction to sugar and my bet is their addiction began from early childhood.
Parental guidance and education is only part of the solution
Parents do have a huge role to play because the truth is no person is more influential on a child than their parents. However, using the family example, if one parent is enforcing the rules and the other isn't then you can guess what happens – failure. it's a similar partnership that's needed between parents and the wider community otherwise good parents doing the right thing nutritionally by their kids will always be undermined. For instance, many schools have a "healthy eating" policy whereby certain processed foods are not allowed to be brought to school and that's pretty good except when the school then proceeds to brake their own rules by allowing sweets to be eaten in class for little Amy's birthday or fizzy drink Friday to raise funds for cancer. These types of conflicting messages although well intentioned can undermine the overall strategy parents are employing to limit sugar intake in their children.
In Australia we have a new food labelling system (introduced in 2014 with review on progress due next year) on packaged products called Health Star Rating System it's only voluntary for manufacturers at the moment but I personally think it's a step in
the right direction. The Health Star Rating System trial will run for another 4 years before an assessment is done on its effectiveness and whether to make it compulsory. However, enforcement may not be necessary once the public becomes better educated and manufacturers realise their product looks naked/or dodgy without the rating label on it. What I like about the HSR is how sugar (not just fat and sodium) is now assessed as a "baddy" and given considerable weight when it comes to rating a product.
Initiatives like the HSR and community involvement is what's needed to help parents combat the sky rocketing sugar intake by children.
Don't go silly "counting sugar"
Finally, I know this could seem counter intuitive to the crux of this article but one other thing I'd like to touch on briefly is the alarmist argument that sugar is in just about everything we eat – hidden in processed products marked as "healthy" but even in good food like fresh fruit and vegetables. Whilst we should read the ingredients and be on guard against foods perceived as healthy, but actually have high added sugar, to become obsessed with "counting sugar" in all its forms is in my humble opinion a very dangerous path to go down and could lead to even worse heath outcomes.
Unless a person is on a restricted diet due to medical reasons, then I would advocate a sensible approach to limiting sugar in ones daily eating. If we start worrying too much about the overall sugar in our foods including fresh fruit and vegetables then it's beginning to touch on eating disorder territory. Anyway, I'll write more about sugar products in a future article and which sweets are worse than others etc; suffice to say, all products high in added sugar (whether it be sugarcane or other fruit refined sugars) should be consumed in moderation.
Sugar – the biggest threat to humanity!
We must all understand that over consumption of sugar is fast becoming the main cause of the biggest health crisis in human history – obesity and its related diseases. The cost to society alone can be measured in the billions when it comes to people requiring treatment from diseases caused by eating too much sugar. I'm sure you and most other parents like me already know too much sugar is bad for children, hell we know it's bad for us adults! However, the sinister thing that isn't mentioned very much is how addictive sugar is and how this addiction can be so strong it's akin to having a drug problem. Now, I don't say this lightly… Sugar is a drug and it's perhaps one of the worst drugs to ever face humanity.
If you would like to buy an electronic safe like mine check out these links below.