Lab Mouse - ©

Limiting Childhood Sugar Could Have Multitudinous Benefits

‘Sugar is bad for you!’ Who among us has not heard that old warning over and over again, all through their lives? But did we take it seriously? Some of us did; many of us didn’t. We all should have. And what happened? We in the developed West now live in the richest societies the world has ever seen, and – absurdly – the sickest…

Fat American with Flag Shirt - ©
Recent numbers suggest that more than 75 percent of Americans are either

overweight or obese. But are they also inattentive and impulsive?

I guess we’re all familiar with the traditional caveats about giving too much sugar to kids:

“It’ll make them fat.”

“It’ll make them hyperactive.”

“It’ll rot their teeth.”

All true, to some some extent or another, though recent studies have cast doubt on just how much blame should be placed on sugar for kids’ hyperactivity. Anyway..

But now a team of researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia have uncovered some potentially serious effects of excess childhood sugar that only show up in later life…

Effects broader than originally expected…

Study report Lead Author Dr. Selena Bartlett notes that many children, adolescents and adults in more than 60 countries, including Australia, have a diet consisting of more than four times the sugar (100 g) recommended by the World Health Organisation (25 g per person per day). And her team’s studies of the effects of early excess sugar consumption suggest that the habit could lead to a host of physical health and emotional issues later in life:

“Our study found long-term sugar consumption (a 12-week period with the mice which started the trial at five weeks of age) at a level that significantly boosts weight gain, elicits an abnormal and excessive stimulation of the nervous system in response to novelty. It also alters both episodic and spatial memory. These results are like those reported in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.”

Scientists have long used mice in studies of medical issues, as mice have many physiological similarities to humans at the micro level, and results in the mice may strongly indicate  similar results in humans.

Study report Co-Lead Author Dr. Arnauld Belmer added that, while the overall sugar consumption has dropped since the mid-1990s, obesity rates have climbed.

What they found

“It is increasingly considered that unrestricted consumption of high-sugar food and beverages within the Western Diet might be linked to the increased obesity epidemic,” Bartlett says. “A strong association between attention-deficits/hyperactivity disorders and being overweight or obese have also been revealed. […] Taken together, these data suggest that sugar-induced obesity may [contribute materially] to the developing pathogenesis of ADHD-like symptoms in western countries. In children, high sugar consumption correlates with hyperactivity and, in adults, with inattention and impulsivity.”

Sugar ‘addiction’ theory also supported

The study results also supports the contention that sugar is addictive – like opiates, or even OREOs.

Bartlett said that, while the concept of ‘sugar addiction’ and the classification of sugar as a substance of abuse were still being debated, there is increasing evidence of overlap in the brain circuitry and molecular signalling pathways involved in sugar consumption and drug abuse:

“People consume sugar and food to regulate energy balance, but also for pleasure and comfort. This hedonistic desire for palatable food is reward-driven and overeating can impact upon and even override our ability to regulate.”

The takeaway

“This rise in obesity rates could result from a delayed effect of excess sugar, suggesting that adult obesity may be driven by high sugar intake over a life span,” Belmer said. “Interestingly, our investigation with the mice found reducing the daily sucrose intake four-fold did prevent sugar-induced increase in weight gain, supporting the WHO’s recommendation to restrict sugar intake by this amount would be effective. It could also limit the other negative consequences including hyperactivity and cognitive impairment.”

My take

The ultimate bottom line to this story is, ‘more work needs to be done’ in the same direction to confirm that the mouse results do, indeed, translate to humans. Duh.

I also think it would be ridiculous to try to get people to reduce their sugar intake by 75 percent, as Belmer suggests. That may be an effective move, but – given the study’s own enhanced evidence that sugar is classically addictive – highly unlikely to be adopted, especially by those obese, inattentive and impulsive adults who would benefit most.

What dropped my jaw most in this story was the revelation that sugar intake is more than 4 times the WHO-recommended limit in some 60 countries around the world. Sounds to me like major legislation – and accompanying enforcement – of reductions in sugar content of processed and packaged foods would do the trick.But no government has the guts to enrage the powerful food processing industry, and risk the previously unheard-of voter backlash at election time. Just see what happens when you take away an addict’s OREOS.

~ Maggie J.