Summer Sweets

A 2018 study made headlines by reporting that kids ate five times as much sugar in the summer as they consumed during the school year. It’s probably still true. Kids hanging out at home are likely to have more access to sodas, sugary fruit-flavored drinks, ice cream, and sweet snacks than they have at school.

Summer activities from sports to Vacation Bible School often center around sugary refreshments. Vacations naturally involve treats of all kinds, including touristy snacks. Parents often are more relaxed about household rules and routines in the summer, too. Some kids snack more out of boredom. Recent research also suggests that teens who get too little sleep, as they may do if sleep routines are relaxed in summer, eat an average of 12 grams more sugar each day. 

So it’s no surprise that kids take in more sugar in the summer. Is it a problem?

Fun or health threat?

What would summer be without ice cream and soda? Pay a little attention to the portrayals of summer fun in the ads you see on TV or at YouTube and you’ll see that kids are shown happily slurping down sugar in most of them. Sugar and summer fun just go together. 

But excess sugar consumption can have consequences for kids:

  • They may eat less of the nutritious foods they need, ending up malnourished even if they take in plenty of calories.
  • They are likely to develop unhealthy eating habits that can stay with them into adulthood.
  • They have increased chances of ending up with chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Don’t look at restricting sweets as spoiling your child’s fun. Actually, you’re protecting their health. 

Controlling sugar

Human beings naturally like sweet tastes. Access to sweets may be the main thing that limits the amount of sugar kids (or adults) eat.

Reduce access to sweets:

  • Limit the amount of sweet treats you keep on hand. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that the average American child ate 17% of their calories in sugar. If your weekly grocery shopping includes more sweets than vegetables, it’s easy to end up serving too many sweets.
  • Limit serving sizes, too. One piece of candy, a couple of cookies, or a single cupcake is plenty. Notice the serving sizes, too. It’s easier to choose smaller cookies in the grocery store than to convince kids to eat just one larger cookie.
  • Make sweets a special treat, not an everyday thing. Going out for ice cream can be an exciting family outing if it isn’t a frequent habit. 
  • Don’t ramp up sweets. If ice cream is always available, you might begin adding chocolate syrup for dessert and step up to banana splits for weekends. When a particular sweet treat stops being exciting, stop serving it for a while so it will be exciting when you return to it. 
  • Offer fresh fruit as your most frequent sweet treat. Summer fruit is delicious, especially if your kids’ taste buds aren’t accustomed to super-sweet foods and drinks.

If you’re concerned about your kids’ sugar intake or you need help controlling the quantity of sweets you eat as a family, your pediatrician can help.