Can an App Stop Kids From Eating Their Body Weight in Sugar?

Public Health England hopes making it easier to track consumption will help children eat less of the sweet stuff.
(Photo: YouTube)
Jan 4, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Most parents wouldn’t allow their child to chow down on sugar cubes, let alone 5,543 of them. But thanks to the amount of added sugar in everyday foods and drinks, that’s what the tots as young as five are eating annually. Those tiny white blocks add up quickly. Over the course of a year, that’s the equivalent of nearly 50 pounds of sugar, more than some children that age weigh.

Now a new campaign, “Change4Life,” launched Monday by Public Health England hopes to help parents significantly reduce the amount of added sugar in their kids’ diet. The campaign follows a declaration in June by scientists in the U.K. that to combat obesity, particularly in children, the amount of sugar people in Britain consume needs to be cut in half.

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“Children are having too much sugar—three times the maximum recommended amount,” said Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist for Public Health England, in a statement. “This can lead to painful tooth decay, weight gain, and obesity, which can also affect children’s well-being, as they are more likely to be bullied, have low self-esteem, and miss school.”

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The campaign launched with print, television, and Internet advertisements and a website with tips for reducing the amount of sugar kids eat. A clever video posted on YouTube builds a boy’s body out of sugar cubes.

But at the campaign’s core is a free app designed to help parents figure out how many cubes or grams of sugar common items, such as a glass of juice or a bar of chocolate, contain.

Parents could read labels and calculate how many grams of sugar there are per serving, and more Brits are doing that. But if, thanks to the easy-to-understand app, parents can quickly see that kids ages four to six should consume no more than five sugar cubes, the equivalent of 19 grams of added sugar, they might steer their kids toward healthier choices. That means skipping the candy aisle, as an average chocolate bar, with six cubes of sugar, is off-limits for these youngsters. U.K. officials also recommend that children ages seven to 10 eat only 24 grams—six cubes—which means the chocolate bar is cool but not when it’s accompanied by a serving of sugar-laden cereal.

Although the app is geared toward kids, adults can use it too. Everyone over the age of 11 should eat only 30 grams, or seven sugar cubes. That eliminates soda, which might, depending on the brand, contain nearly 40 grams of sugar per can.

Of course, not everyone believes health officials are on the right track with the app. Author Harry Leslie Smith posted another idea on Twitter: Tax the heck out of junk food.