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The fizz is going, going, gone

School soft drinks ban in effect

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

Kimberly Suraj, Dietician

There will be something different about school cafeterias this academic year. The nation’s government and government-assisted schools are to be in full compliance with the Ministry of Education’s ban on the sale or serving of sweetened soft drinks and juices. Flavoured water, sports/energy drinks; tea, coffee and milk-based drinks with added sugars and/or artificial sweeteners will also be unavailable.

Schools were informed of the Cabinet’s decision to halt the sale or serving of sweetened beverages (added sugars by manufacturers and other producers), via a circular issued by the Permanent Secretary in May. The early notice was to allow changes to be phased-in and give concessionaires time to be compliant.

The circular stated this is one of a number of measures by the Education Ministry in collaboration with the Health Ministry as part of the strategic framework to reduce the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and epidemic of childhood obesity in the country. Childhood obesity is a significant risk factor for early onset of NCDs and diabetes and hypertension.

Only 100 per cent fruit juices, low fat milk, blended vegetables or fruit drinks with no added sugars/artificial sweeteners are to be sold.

Catholic News posed a few questions to registered dietician Kimberly Suraj about the diets of our children, and what parents can do to ensure their children remain healthy during the academic year.

  1. How much of a problem would you say is the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly by children and young people?

Sugary drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. According to research done in 2009/2011 by the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, 23 per cent of primary school children in Trinidad and Tobago were overweight or obese. In another study, out of a sample of 67,000 of school-aged children, 23 were found to have persistent glycosuria (sugar in the urine), 8 were diagnosed as diabetic and 5 were diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

  1. How much is too much sugar in the diet of a child? 

Children and teens should consume less than six teaspoons or less than 25g of “added sugars” a day according to the American Heart Association. There are other alternatives to cheaper sugary drinks that can be used such as drinking water, or unsweetened teas.

  1. Fruit juices may be considered a healthier option but is this really so? What should parents look for on labels?

100 per cent fruit juices would be considered as a healthier option than juices that have added sugars. Parents should look for 100 per cent fruit juice or unsweetened or no added sugar on the labels of juice boxes or tins, instead of juice drinks which could be artificially flavoured fruit drinks. Beginning July 2018, the Food and Drug Association in the United States, will be requiring food manufacturers to not just show all sugars but to include and show those that were added. Therefore, added sugars will be listed clearly on the nutrition facts information.

  1. What are the long-term health effects of a high sugar diet? Do signs begin showing from young?

According to the American Heart Association, there are studies linking added sugars and conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease. Many heart risk factors are connected to diets high in added sugars, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These are some signs that can begin from young. Children who usually have a higher intake of sugar sweetened beverages have been strongly linked to overweight and at risk for obesity. (American Heart Association, 2016)

A 2014 study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine was one of the first to tie too much sugar to an increased risk of dying from heart disease. The study said people who got 17 to 21 per cent of their calories from added sugars had a 38 per cent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who ate eight per cent of their calories from added sugar. (American Heart Association, 2016)

  1. Apart from drinks what should parents also be looking at to reduce sugar intake in their child’s diet?

Snacks such as most sweetened cereals, hard candies, cakes, pastries, ice cream, and cookies, as well as cooking methods. Added sugars are not only present in cakes and cookies but can also be found in some barbeque sauces, salad dressings, hamburger buns. Therefore, reading of food labels is very important.

  1. What reasonably priced alternatives are there in drinks and snacks that parents can purchase? Sugar is one of the generators of ‘energy’ so parents will think the child needs it and will ‘burn it off’.

Correct, some parents may be thinking the child is young, active and has good metabolism. The issue of cost is another factor, the sugary drinks may be cheaper.

Alternatives to unhealthy drinks and snacks

As for sugars as energy, children can get this from naturally occurring sugars in food or sugars can be substituted with a starch. The key is limiting snacks with low nutritional value which are usually ones that have added sugar.

Please note that whether a snack or drink is deemed healthy or unhealthy, portion control must be kept.

  1. Given the seasonal nature of fruits and again the issue of cost, how can parents who want a balanced diet in the drinks and snacks provided achieve this and keep children interested?

A balanced diet would incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish. Fruits should be bought in season, therefore the cost will be lower, or some of these fresh fruits can be bought in season and frozen to make smoothies without added sugar.

  1. What food components (eg. eggs, milk) make for the ideal diet by age group? What should be increased/decreased in diets of the child of primary age and those at secondary? 

Foods such as staples (breads, provision, rice), vegetables, legumes (peas, beans), fruits, food from animals (low fat dairy and lean meat, poultry and fish) and fats and oils, can be used as a balanced diet. The number of servings for each age group will be different based on their weight, height and age. Children below two years should not consume foods with added sugars.