Sugar rush

An­drea Mara hears how mar­keted fruit wa­ters can con­tain as much sugar as cola and other fizzy drinks, and why the Su­per Troop­ers health pro­gramme is de­liv­er­ing re­sults

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

MANY par­ents feel bom­barded with mes­sages about their chil­dren’s health — they’re over­weight, they’re spend­ing too much time on de­vices, and they’re eat­ing all the wrong foods. Even when we lis­ten and try to do our best, we can still get it wrong — as soon as we get them eat­ing a par­tic­u­lar break­fast ce­real or yo­ghurt, we find out it’s full of sugar and the last thing we should be feed­ing our kids.

A case in point is the re­cent re­duc­tion in fizzy drink con­sump­tion. A new study car­ried out by TCD pro­fes­sor David Hevey for Laya Health­care shows that just 2% of chil­dren in Ire­land now drink fizzy drinks ev­ery day.

How­ever, the re­port shows there has been a shift to sug­ary wa­ters, with one in four chil­dren drink­ing ‘fruit-flavoured wa­ter’ at least five days a week.

“The trou­ble is, th­ese fruit-flavoured wa­ters can be sim­i­lar in terms of sugar to soft drinks,” says con­sul­tant di­eti­tian Paula Mee.

She uses a can of cola to il­lus­trate the point. “A can of cola works out at 35g of sugar or 8.75 tea­spoons. There was one fruit-wa­ter I looked at that con­tains 29g of sugar, which is 7.25 tea­spoons in the same vol­ume. It looks like it’s a wa­ter but it’s got nearly as much sugar as cola.”

It’s not just sugar that con­cerns her. “Fruit wa­ters can con­tain cit­ric acid which, along with the car­bon­a­tion, can have ef­fects on den­tal health,” she says. “And some have ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers, which aren’t really suit­able for small kids. Peo­ple don’t re­alise there are some­times colours in them too. There was one drink I looked at and in very small print it said, ‘This may af­fect your child’s be­hav­iour’.”

Mee feels there should be more trans­parency in la­belling. “The la­belling can be very hard to read. I think we need tighter reg­u­la­tions so that it’s clear to the con­sumer how much added sugar a drink con­tains or if it has ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers.

“The prob­lem also is that peo­ple don’t have time to read la­bels; they’re busy do­ing the fam­ily shop, and some think they’re buy­ing a health­ier ver­sion of a soft drink, but they’re not.”

It’s worth not­ing that the study in ques­tion was car­ried out on fam­i­lies par­tic­i­pat­ing in Laya Health­care’s Su­per Troop­ers, a free health home­work pro­gramme for pri­mary school chil­dren. Th­ese are fam­i­lies who are ac­tively in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about health and nu­tri­tion, but, like the rest of us, they don’t al­ways get it right. The sur­vey also found that chil­dren are spend­ing more time on de­vices than out­doors and that one in five of those who par­tic­i­pated are over­weight or obese.

There was some good news too. When com­pared to the na­tional av­er­age of chil­dren as per the Grow­ing Up In Ire­land study (GUI), Pro­fes­sor Hevey’s re­search found that chil­dren who took part in GUI were twice as likely to be in­ac­tive than those chil­dren par­tic­i­pat­ing in Su­per Troop­ers .

Af­ter tak­ing part in the pro­gramme, between 25% and 33% of fam­i­lies said they were more ac­tive, and 25% said they’re eat­ing more healthily.

Su­per Troop­ers sounds like a com­mon sense idea, but how does it work in prac­tice?

Da­rina Burke, Prin­ci­pal of St Brigid’s Girls Na­tional School, Glas­nevin, Co Dublin says: “The essence of the pro­gramme is that pupils are given health home­work. It can vary — it can be phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, it might be writ­ten home­work, it might in­te­grate with an­other part of the cur­ricu­lum that was cov­ered that day, it might be do­ing jump­ing jacks. The beauty of the pro­gramme is that it’s flex­i­ble. Teach­ers de­cide what to do — they can pick and choose what they want to fo­cus on.”

With so much go­ing on at school, do par­ents, pupils or teach­ers see health home­work as an ex­tra bur­den?

“No, they really don’t,” says Burke. “There’s a real shift gen­er­ally to­wards fo­cussing on well­be­ing in schools, and the three pillars of Su­per Troop­ers are phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, well­be­ing and nu­tri­tion — all of th­ese are be­ing taught dis­cretely in school any­way so it just com­ple­ments the cur­ricu­lum.

“Par­ents like that home­work is not just read­ing, writ­ing and maths. It al­lows for the fact that chil­dren learn in dif­fer­ent ways.”

And are there tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits? “Like any­thing that fo­cuses on health and well­be­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to mea­sure,” says Burke.

“But gen­er­ally, any area that em­pha­sises phys­i­cal ex­er­cise is go­ing to im­prove con­cen­tra­tion lev­els and en­sure chil­dren are more ac­tive.”

The Su­per Troop­ers pro­gramme is not oblig­a­tory in St Brigid’s School, Glas­nevin. Some teach­ers fol­low it through­out the year, while oth­ers dip in and out.

Com­ment­ing on the find­ings of his re­port, Prof Hevey, rec­om­mended that health home­work should be manda­tory for all pri­mary school chil­dren.

Paula Mee couldn’t agree more.“I wouldn’t like par­ents and teach­ers to be bur­dened but health and well­be­ing are core,” she says. “If you don’t have your health, it doesn’t really mat­ter whether you can do calculus or not.”

Reg­is­tra­tion for Su­per Troop­ers with Laya Health­care is now open for the next aca­demic year, with ca­pac­ity in­creas­ing to al­low more schools to take part. Go to su­pertroop­ers.ie/reg­is­ter-your-in­ter­est or call 01-5224848

“Peo­ple

don’t have time to read la­bels; they’re busy do­ing the fam­ily shop, and some think they’re buy­ing a health­ier ver­sion of a soft drink, but they’re not

Pic­ture: iStock

TOO SWEET: Some drinks pro­moted as healthy have just as much sugar as soft drinks.

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