Sugar in our children’s diet

Children born to mothers who had gestational diabetes have a six-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity​1​, showing glucose intolerance and associated metabolic dysregulation​2–5​.

Research has shown that prolonged breastfeeding has been associated with reducing the risk of children developing type 2 diabetes and obesity​6–10​. But when it comes to weaning and looking at our children’s future diet, making healthy lifestyle choices is very important.

This condition [GDM] leads to an altered fetal environment and children exposed are at high risk of developing many health problems, such as obesity [4]. Childhood obesity is a growing health concern, and there is an urgent need to find new strategies to prevent its development among high-risk populations such as children exposed to GDM in utero. Causes of obesity are multiple, but increasing evidence suggests that infancy could be a critical period during which nutrition would have a programming effect for later health [5]. Furthermore, it is well known that lifestyle habits established during childhood, including physical activity (PA) and nutrition, are also important predictors of childhood obesity risk [6]​11​

Postnatal Prevention of Childhood Obesity in Offspring Prenatally Exposed to Gestational Diabetes mellitus: Where Are We Now?

In the knowledge that our children are at higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes, many mothers are confused as to the best approach to diet and how to ensure we help develop healthy eating habits as a family, encouraging lifelong good relationships with diet and lifestyle.

When Dr Colette Reynolds reached out to me, I knew this was a subject that many mothers who have had gestational diabetes have many questions over, therefore I have invited Colette to write and share a guest post around sugar in children’s diet.

How to Reduce Children’s Sugar in Positive Ways

Guest post by Dr Colette Reynolds, Child’s Healthy Eating Coach, founder of Growing Healthy Eaters and Mom to 2 young boys.

As a parent are  we expected to be Jack (or Jill) of all trades?  Are we supposed to know about every aspects of parenting and raising the next generation?

How many of us are good at everything? Certainly not me. I know a lot about growing happy, healthy eaters but being artistic or musical is not one of my strong points.

One of the greatest challenges for many parents is the huge temptation of sugar, for all of us including my family, as sugar can be in such large quantities, all around us.

Do your children:

  • Associate occasions such as Halloween and Easter with piles of sweets and chocolate?
  • Race through dinner, eating very little or no food to get to the dessert afterwards?
  • Have certain associations with food such as pancakes having sweet toppings?
  • Consume excess sugar when they get the chance such as at birthday parties?
  • Regularly nag or repeatedly ask for sugary and sweet foods?

Do you:

  • Know how to talk to your children about sweet and sugary foods in a balanced way (and avoid negative labelling of foods as unhealthy or bad)?
  • Feel your child has a ‘sweet tooth’ that is they have a very strong preference for sweet foods, over other foods?
  • Tend not to keep sugary sweet foods at home, or if you do, keep them ‘locked away’ from your children (as I used to do)? But what kind of message is this sending?
  • Find there is often a power struggle over sweet and sugary foods? For example, do you try to get children to eat more dinner before dessert while your children are only focused on dessert? (The idea that we serve dinner first and then dessert makes sense to most of us, but it may not be working that well for some people).

What can we do about it?

You may feel it is an uphill battle, but the good news is that there is plenty we can do and there is expert support available for parents of babies, toddler, and young kids. From my work with Growing Healthy Eaters, whereby I empower parents to successfully reverse their child’s fussy eating, there are lots of examples to show that a small number of changes can make a huge difference… Once we have the specific understanding, knowledge, skills, and confidence. 

Here is just one example of a strategy that may be a better alternative to always serving dessert after dinner: how about serving some dessert at the same time as the meal? This gives our children choice as to when they eat dessert, that is at the start or end of the meal. Often younger children will eat dessert at the beginning of the meal and then continue to eat the rest of the meal, like my youngest does.

This strategy should avoid the challenges of children racing through dinner or a power struggle between adults and children.  It also has the added advantage of not using dessert as a reward for eating dinner or the opposite, withholding dessert and using it like a ‘punishment’ for not eating dinner.

This works best if a small portion of dessert is served with the meal for example. a square of dark chocolate. The small portion ensures it does not fill up our child’s tummy and there is space left for the rest of the meal.

I use this with my own boys sometimes and what I like about it, is that it helps give the message that dessert is just another part of a meal rather than being its own special event or ‘finale’ at the end of the meal.

This is just one strategy that I discuss in my online course Reduce Children’s Sugar in Positive Ways.

Benefits of this course include helping children have a balanced approach to sweet and sugary foods and eat them in moderation. The specific goal is to reduce children’s intake of sugar (if that’s applicable) or to ensure children are not eating lots of sugary foods in the future.

In this course, I propose straightforward, practical actions that can have a positive impact on a child’s relationship with sugar; including the importance of planning ahead, why it is so important, and how we can quickly and easily do this.

I recommend, for example, it is a great strategy to think about treats ahead of time and plan for them. I use the term ‘treats’ as it also includes foods such as cake (and it’s a term that is used frequently).

I discuss the advantages of having a plan like this, for example, a plan helps make it clear that there is a time to eat treats and there is a different time when other people eat their treats. This makes it easier to explain why we’re saying no if we see someone else eating a treat, as it is not our child’s time until later.

I also propose what a plan might look like including being flexible as some days or weeks will be different, for example, with a birthday party.

Not only it is important to have a plan, but it is also a really good idea to tell our child about the plan. This helps our child know when to expect their treat. Therefore, they may feel less need to nag or pester us frequently about when they will have their next treat.

Take Halloween, as an example, if my children have been eating lots of sweets, I might say enough and take away the rest. If I do not tell them my plan which is to give them some sweets another day, then they will not know about the plan. This may lead them to eat as much as possible, whatever chance they can as they may not know if they will ever see these sweets again.

In the course Reduce Children’s Sugar in Positive Ways I also discuss:

  • How children eat sweets, what mindful eating looks like and ways to avoid mindless eating
  • 3 key strategies for serving dessert and dinner
  • Whether to offer second helpings and the effects of feeling restricted
  • 2 key strategies for dealing with a ‘sweet tooth’
  • Implementing straightforward, quick strategies to help ensure child-sized portions
  • 3 key strategies for dealing with events such as parties
  • 3 key strategies for handling occasions such as Halloween.

Let us take the example of developing a sweet tooth. It can be likened to when we go to a live music event and we find the volume high at first. But after a while, we get more accustomed to it and do not perceive it as high volume anymore. If our children are exposed to sweet tastes very frequently especially from a young age, they are more likely to want more and more of these sweet tastes. They are also probably less likely to want to eat other, less sweet foods such as vegetables.

This course is in line with international recommendations, for example, from the American Heart Association; that state children under 2 years should have no added sugar to their diet. (Added sugars are the sugars that are added to food and drinks during their production).

The course Reduce Children’s Sugar in Positive Ways takes a comprehensive approach covering 12 different topics and it is made easier as each topic is delivered in a bite-sized video. It is ideal for busy families as it is self-paced with lifetime access; so, you can dip into any video in the future, as new challenges arise.

Finally, I really do believe we as parents and caregivers can have a very positive influence on our children; not just in terms of being positive role models but also how we act around sugar and our attitude to it. Of course, none of us can be our best all the time and what is most important is what we do most of the time.

If you would like some expert help and are ready to start taking straightforward, practical actions in positive ways; please join my course today.

Discounted course rate for Gestational Diabetes UK Mums

Colette has kindly offered her Reduce Children’s Sugar in Positive Ways course at a discounted rate for GD UK Mums.

The price is €60 which is approx £50, rather than the full price of €67, so more than 10% off. Click on this link to benefit from the reduced price course.

Research on gestational diabetes, and obesity & type 2 diabetes in children
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  2. 2.
    Kim S, England J, Sharma J, Njoroge T. Gestational diabetes mellitus and risk of childhood overweight and obesity in offspring: a systematic review. Exp Diabetes Res. 2011;2011:541308. doi:10.1155/2011/541308
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    Wang J, Wang L, Liu H, et al. Maternal gestational diabetes and different indicators of childhood obesity: a large study. Endocr Connect. 2018;7(12):1464-1471. doi:10.1530/EC-18-0449
  4. 4.
    Wilk M, Horodnicka-Józwa A, Moleda P, et al. Assessment of selected carbohydrate parameters in children exposed to gestational diabetes in utero. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2015;36(5):504-510.
  5. 5.
    Kim S, Sharma A, Callaghan W. Gestational diabetes and childhood obesity:  what is the link? Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2012;24(6):376-381. doi:10.1097/GCO.0b013e328359f0f4
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    Dugas C, Kearney M, Mercier R, et al. Early life nutrition, glycemic and anthropometric profiles of children exposed to gestational diabetes mellitus in utero. Early Human Development. Published online March 2018:37-41. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2018.02.004
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    Much D, Beyerlein A, Kindt A, et al. Lactation is associated with altered metabolomic signatures in women with gestational diabetes. Diabetologia. Published online July 16, 2016:2193-2202. doi:10.1007/s00125-016-4055-8
  8. 8.
    Stuebe AM. Duration of Lactation and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA. Published online November 23, 2005:2601. doi:10.1001/jama.294.20.2601
  9. 9.
    Trout KK, Averbuch T, Barowski M. Promoting Breastfeeding Among Obese Women and Women with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Curr Diab Rep. Published online November 5, 2010:7-12. doi:10.1007/s11892-010-0159-6
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    Gunderson EP. Breast-feeding and diabetes: Long-term impact on mothers and their infants. Curr Diab Rep. Published online August 2008:279-286. doi:10.1007/s11892-008-0050-x
  11. 11.
    Dugas C, Perron J, Kearney M, et al. Postnatal Prevention of Childhood Obesity in Offspring Prenatally Exposed to Gestational Diabetes mellitus: Where Are We Now? Obes Facts. Published online 2017:396-406. doi:10.1159/000477407