Being the studious type, when I was pregnant with Jie-jie I read my way through the pregnancy, childbirth, and child development sections of the Public Library. I read somewhere (Sears and Sears, The Baby Book, I think) that if during pregnancy and in the first year or two you limit your children’s in-take of refined sugar and other simple carbs, they won’t develop a sweet tooth. I developed a food introduction plan from a book called Super Baby Food (Yaron), and leaving out the sugar was consistent with the plan. So, my both of my children went without refined sugar and simple carbs for the first year. After that, we did not worry about it as much, but we still didn’t really offer those things at home.
Now, nearly a decade later, I can say that my children are great with sweets. Mei-mei is more likely to stop eating an ice cream when it is only half done than she is to actually finish it. Too sweet, she says. Jie-jie often skips birthday cake if it is very sweet or heavily iced. Our children are so uninterested in eating candy that in both New York and Vermont we have entire cupboards devoted to the storage of surplus goodies. We don’t worry about them having access to it, either.
It’s not that they don’t like candy. In fact, they really like stopping in at the local candy shops, amassing tremendous amounts of Halloween candy, Valentine sweets, Easter treasures, etc. What they don’t seem to care much about is actually eating all the candy they collect. They eat a little, but the truth is that they don’t like it that much. Sadly, I have a very highly developed sweet tooth, and I am certain that I eat more of their loot than they do.
Each year, typically shortly after Thanksgiving, we dig out all their candy. We unwrap and sort it and use it to decorate gingerbread houses and cookies. Whatever we don’t use goes to the trash.
We are a bit late with our gingerbread house construction, so this evening I just pulled out their candy. It really is quite amazing how much candy two children can accumulate over the course of a year’s worth of holidays, birthday parties, house guests bearing gifts, and trips to the sweet shop.
Seeing all those pounds of leftover candy leads me to wonder how many pounds of sugar they consume over the course of the year. I am concerned about the health impact of all that sugar when it comes to my own kids. Since I suspect our candy acquisition rate is at or below average, I am even more concerned about those children who consume more sweets.
According to the USDA (http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf), Americans consume an average of 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners annually. That is 50% more sweeteners than 50 years ago. Scary stuff since research suggests that sugar is addictive, and associated with unhealthy cholesterol levels, type-2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and, of course, tooth decay.
Perhaps it is time to consider the role of sweets in our children’s celebrations and special moments. The goodies we lovingly and indulgently give our children today may be limiting their good health in the future.