Hardwired to Love a Sugar High

I totally appreciate the intent behind the healthy trick-or-treating at Open Streets in The Grove over the Halloween weekend.  Organizers are all about promoting physical activity by closing city streets to cars and opening them for pedestrians and cyclists. The kids loved the bubble machines, food trucks, games and flash mob dancing to Thriller along Manchester Avenue.

But although they were OK with receiving apples, clementines and raisins, what they really wanted was sugar. The more, the better. Those little ghosts and ninjas are biologically hardwired to love sweets, and it doesn’t really matter what we adults do to try to redirect them.

Scientists think that children’s ability to eat copious amounts of sugar is related to the hormones in their growing bodies. In fascinating studies, they’ve found that most kids don’t really have an upper tolerance for sweetness – unlike adults, who tend to hit a point at which a beverage will simply taste too sweet.  However, adolescents who have stopped growing max out on sweetness, just like adults.

Since hearing about this research, I’ve rethought my approach to sugary foods.  I’m no longer so worried that my kids will develop a lifelong sweet tooth if we have donuts for breakfast or if they binge on Halloween candy for a few days. On the other hand, I’m very conscious about refined sugars in the foods and drinks we have at “real” meals. This is where most of the hidden calories lurk. 

The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, when the recommendation is six teaspoons for women and nine for men. When we’re binging on our kids’ Halloween candy, this is understandable.  But most of it comes from our routine diet, especially soft drinks, sweetened juices and other foods with huge amounts of sugar added in, like breakfast cereals. 

The average teen (almost unbelievably) eats 34 teaspoons of sugar a day. The cause may be a combination of growing bodies – those sugar cravings are still biologically driven – and the age-appropriate autonomy teens’ parents give them to choose their own foods.

Encouraging young people to burn off those calories through active lifestyles is great, and for that I commend organizations like Trailnet and other supporters of Open Streets. However, informing kids early on about what’s actually in their food could be more productive in the long run – it could equip them to avoid hidden sugars when they get older. 

Several government agencies are trying this approach at Nutrition.gov, where interactive learning materials aimed at teens and tweens teach them about healthy choices as well as the critical thinking skills they need to decipher media messages about food.

Halloween is a great opportunity for kids and parents to start reading ingredient lists, serving sizes and calorie counts. Talk about how much sugar is in that candy. Donate it, trade it or let them eat it – but explain your decision to your kids in ways that will help them understand why they love sugar and why you don’t want them to get too much of it.

By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting

Share This Story

Amy De La Hunt is a journalist and editor who lives in the St. Louis metro area and works across the country as a writer, copy editor, project manager and editorial consultant on everything from fiction books to monthly magazines to blog posts. When she's not chauffeuring her teenage sons to activities, Amy is an enthusiastic amateur cook, landscaper, Latin dancer and traveler. Follow Amy on Instagram @amy_in_words

Our Daily Things to Do email is the easiest way to plan your day.
Follow Us
Want daily ideas of things to do? How about special offers & giveaways? Sign up and we’ll handle the rest.
Things to Do

WOW! Amazing Animal Show at the World Bird Sanctuary
Friday, July 19, 2024
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Sunday, July 21, 2024

Take your family to watch birds of prey fly right over your head, macaws speak the English language and much more at the WOW! Amazing Animal Show at the World Bird Sanctuary. Every program showcases different animals so each day is a new experience. 

View this event »
Open Gym at Miss Kelly's Gym
Friday, July 19, 2024
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Friday, July 26, 2024

Kids can work on existing gym skills, learn new skills or just play around during Open Gym at Miss Kelly's Gym. Reservations are not necessary.

View this event »
Kids Night Out at Olympia Gymnastics
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Saturday, July 27, 2024
Saturday, August 10, 2024

Kids Night Out at Olympia Gymnastics is an evening filled with fun! Parents get a babysitter for the night and kids will enjoy gymnastics/ninja-themed activities, group games, crafts, and more! Members and non-members are welcome.



View this event »
You Might Also Like...

From Our Sponsors
Popular Stories

COCA Ignites Creativity and Sparks Fun for Kids of All Ages, All Summer Long

Stroll along the Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop, and you’ll spot the playwrights, actors, and artists who got their start in St. Louis, from Tennessee Williams and Katherine Dunham, to Tina Turner and John Goodman. Just a few steps away and around the corner, a new generation of Gateway City superstars will discover their love for the visual and performing arts this summer.

Continue reading »
Farmer's Markets Make Great Family Outings! Here is Your 2024 Guide to Farmers Markets Across the St. Louis Area

A trip to the farmer’s market is a fun outing for the entire family – and it can be educational too. Make plans to visit one (or several) of these top St. Louis farmers’ markets this spring and summer, so that you and your kids can learn more about where your food comes from and indulge in some of the freshest, seasonal produce the St. Louis region has to offer. Plus, many of these markets offer activities just for kids, feature food trucks, welcome dogs, and more.    

Continue reading »
SUE: The T. Rex Experience to Roar Into the Saint Louis Science Center

This summer. families can meet Sue, the most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever found, in the Lou! The Saint Louis Science Center will welcome SUE: The T. rex Experience beginning June 8. The special exhibition features the latest scientific discoveries about the species as a whole along as well immersive, sensory exploration of life in the Cretaceous period.

Continue reading »
Life Lessons Learned at Overnight Camp

With the perfect blend of adventure and responsibility, camp life teaches kids valuable lessons they can use for the rest of their lives. If you send your child to overnight camp, here are some life lessons they are likely to learn.

Continue reading »
10 Reasons Your Teen Might Love to be a Camp Counselor

Day or sleepaway summer camp is the perfect place for teens to transition to the world of the employed. The paycheck is nice, but being a summer camp counselor has other rewards, too.

Continue reading »
Follow Us