Children & The Dangers of Hidden Sugar
Don't be fooled by "Low Sugar" labels.

There is just no way to avoid it. Sugar is in everything these days, and it is no longer a simple matter of cutting out sweets, ice cream and cakes. 

It is hidden in the most nefarious way in all sorts of packaged and processed foods, unbeknownst to parents, much less youngsters. 

Sweet temptations grace supermarket shelves, within reach of children’s chubby little hands. 

They are are easy fix for hassled and frazzled parents, looking to pacify children and to reward them for their good behaviour. 

However, it is common knowledge that eating too much sugar is harmful. 

So what unhealthy effects can it have on a growing child? 


Tooth Decay 

One of the most visible repercussions of excessive sugar consumption, tooth decay is a painful and arguably expensive side effect. 

Tooth decay can potentially cause much more than just fillings and the loss of teeth, if left untreated, it can lead to severe illness. Tooth decay when left to fester could develop into a tooth abscess, which can become infected, triggering life-threatening complications such as sepsis. While good oral hygiene, including brushing twice daily and flossing at least once a day coupled with regular visits to the dentist, can help prevent tooth decay, it is equally important to moderate how much sugar your child consumes, particularly those found in fizzy drinks and sweets. 


Psychological Damage 

Researchers from Cardiff University have established a clear link between excessive sugar consumption and anti-social behaviour later in life. The research studied 7,000 people born in 1970 at age 10 and then later in adulthood. Their daily confectionery consumption as a child was evaluated. The study concluded that of those who committed violent crimes, 69% ate sweets everyday as children.

The scientists behind this research surmised, once taking socio-economic and genetic factors into consideration, that the findings were correlated to parents using sweet treats to control their children’s behaviour, which impedes their child learning how to delay gratification. Other research has linked the lack of this important life skill to delinquency. As well as pumping children with way too much sugar, sweets and other sugary treats are also laced with additives which have shown some association with behavioural and mental health issues such as hyperactivity and depression.  

Children can also suffer debilitating withdrawal symptoms if their sweet habit turns into a full-blown sugar addiction. They may exhibit mood changes, such as irritability and inattentiveness, as well as physical symptoms such as tremors or become much more lethargic than usual.  


Obesity & Malnutrition 

Excessive sugar consumption is the main cause of the obesity epidemic amongst children in the developed world. Despite their seemingly large girths, overweight kids can also suffer from malnutrition. Many people wrongly equate malnutrition with near starvation. Actually, malnutrition happens when an individual gets too much or too little of a specific nutrient. Hence, even if your children are getting enough for their energy needs from sugar, they might still be lacking in other essential nutrients such as fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. Iron and calcium are two minerals that are particularly important to children, given that their developing bodies cannot store these two minerals as efficiently as adults, and they need more of these nutrients for the growth of their bones and blood supply. 



One in five young people in Singapore suffer from diabetes. Alarmingly,Singapore has the second highest incidence per capita for this lifelong disease. A 2012 review of previous research suggests that consuming some forms of sugar could increase the risk of diabetes. Drawing upon previous research, the study suggested that sugary drinks were likely to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, which has risen amongst children in Singapore in the last decade.

However, reading food labels to work out sugar content can be tricky. In part, owing to the dizzying variety of ways sugar can be labelled.

Some are not easy to spot as sugar such as hydrolysed starch or levulose. Others have innocuous sounding names such as grape sugar and coconut blossom nectar, that sound healthy and even nutritious.

In whatever form it is labelled-be it syrup,refined or honey - sugar is still inevitably sugar. And these can still have an adverse effect on your health as well as your children's. It is true that some sugars contain minute amounts of minerals such as iron and fibre but you would have to eat quite a massive, unhealthy amount to get them in any significant quantity.

And once you've managed to trawl through the complex labyrinth of sugars in disguise, trying to total intake your daily sugar intake and sticking to recommended guidelines is the next challenge. 

In Singapore, the guidance limit is 11 teaspoons of sugar or 55 grams of sugar a day for adults. Children should have less of course, and should not exceed more than 10 per cent of their recommended daily energy intake. 

But it can tot up quickly, given the fact that sugar can be found in the most unexpected places. 

Take the example of a what a typical 10 year primary school child eats in Singapore in a day:



Cereal pops with milk: 17g of sugar


Hainanese Chicken Rice, Orange Juice and Ice Kachang: 50g of sugar 


Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar: 14g of sugar 


Sweet and Sour Chicken with Rice:12g of sugar


TOTAL INTAKE: 93g of sugar


Children could thus be eating more than twice their daily sugar limit daily, without anyone being none the wiser! Even in seemingly healthy options such as cereal and fruit juice!

However, here are some tips to minimise sugars in your child's diet as much as possible: 


  1. The higher up an ingredient is in a food label, the more of it there is. Sugar sources usually end in 'ose' so avoid products that list one of these in the first five ingredients used. 
  2. Do not be fooled by sugar in its myriad of disguises. Look out for the 'of which sugars' on the nutritional label to get the precise amount of sugar in a product. 
  3. Cook more at home and do not add sugar to dishes.
  4. Encourage children to eat more wholegrain,unprocessed food as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.Whole fruit and vegetables contain water and fiber, which will help kids to feel full. 
  5. Pack healthy snacks ahead of time when you and your children are on the go, and avoid the sweet aisle or snack counter as much as possible. Fruits, veggies and dips (hummus, nut butters) and nuts all travel well.


Sticking to these guidelines should help you reduce the sugar intake of your children  drastically and reduce the risks associated with excessive sugar consumption . Or why not try them yourself? 



Thanks for reading,

Linda Haden

  • September