Cavities, hyperactivity, obesity, oh my! There are tons of reasons why health professionals encourage parents to watch their children's sugar intake. And, according to a new study, there's another reason your kid shouldn't have too much sugar — and it might just be the most alarming of all. In an analysis of how humans process sugar, researchers discovered that that a diet high in sugar could cause cancerous tumors to grow more rapidly.
That's enough of a reason for everyone with a sweet tooth to pay attention. But parents should definitely take special note, as children's health habits are forming right now. And it's possible that steering them away from Coca-Cola and sleeves of Chips Ahoy! cookies could make a difference down the road.
Over the course of nine years, three scientists observed that excess sugar caused yeast to produce overactive, fast-growing versions of mutated proteins often found en masse in tumors, Quartz reported. In short, these scientists from Belgium — yes, the birthplace of that sugary godsend that is the Belgian Waffle — identified "evidence for a positive correlation between sugar and cancer," according to a press release about the study, which was published Friday in the journal Nature Communications.
So, this is not the best news for all the lovers of cookies and cakes and everything sweet out there, whether you're 5 or 35.
But out of everyone who may want to reverse course and renounce their candy guzzling ways in light of this discovery, young children will arguably have the easiest go of it. Although the Belgian study did not focus on children or offer any recommendations for people to chance their diets to improve their health outcomes, the fact is that health habits are generally accepted to solidify when a person is very young. As Santa Clara University psychology professor Thomas G. Plante wrote for Psychology Today, "health habits develop very early in life and, once well established, are exceedingly difficult to change."
A series of studies funded by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and published in 2014 reached similar conclusions, The New York Times reported. In one study, for example, researchers found that 6-year-olds who had drank any amount of sugar-sweetened beverages when they were babies were twice as likely to drink them once a day than children who had not. "Our early taste preferences, particularly for fruits and vegetables, and on the flip side for sugary beverages, are lasting," said Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, who is chief of the division of general pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston but was not involved in the spate of studies, told the newspaper at the time
The new information about how sugar intake can encourage the growth of cancer tumors is far from the only reason that little ones (and people in general) should make a point to enjoy in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that kids ages 2 to 18 limit themselves to six teaspoons of added sugar per day, and that the diets of those younger than 2 exclude it completely. After all, the reasons that sugar should be largely avoided are many, according to Healthline: It boasts no essential health benefits, it's bad for your teeth, it can play a role in the development of diabetes, it can cause obesity, the rise in cholesterol it can cause can give you heart disease, and more. On top of all that, sugar is pretty darn addictive.
All this is not to say that your kid should never, ever enjoy a slice of birthday cake or indulge in some Halloween candy. It's just a reminder that it's important to focus on nutrient-rich foods and save the treats for special occasions.
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