The Harmful Affects of Sugar on Child Development
3 minutes read

The Harmful Affects of Sugar on Child Development

By: Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

In today's food landscape, added sugar has become a hidden culprit for many health complications, especially for our children. 

From breakfast cereals to seemingly healthy snacks, sugar hides in many foods, often going unnoticed by parents and caregivers. Because of this, monitoring your child’s sugar intake is essential to ensure they aren’t going over the recommended guidelines. 

According to the American Heart Association, sugar consumption guidelines for kids are set at no more than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, Yet, many surpass this limit without realizing it. The negative effects of sugar on children are widespread, and excessive intake can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, dental issues, mental health concerns, and more.¹

Not to worry - with more knowledge and understanding, you can help your children reduce their sugar intake and find healthier choices to support their development for years to come.

Effects of Sugar on Children

Excess sugar intake in children can lead to a host of health problems. Too much sugar can also contribute to behavior changes such as hyperactivity, loss of focus, and mood swings. 

Here are the most common conditions that can arise when children overdo it on added sugar - the type of sugar added to foods, not the type found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

Childhood Obesity

One of the main drivers of obesity is overeating, and in particular, excessive sugar consumption.

Several studies point to a link between excess sugar consumption and childhood obesity risk. For example, one large study concluded that high added sugar intake increased the risk of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents, regardless of other dietary factors.²

It also appears sugar-sweetened beverages in particular may be more directly linked to obesity and health problems, as seen by several studies.³,

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes among youth is also on the rise, and several studies show the consumption of added sugar, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, can contribute to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes risk in children.⁴

This may be due to added sugar’s effects on metabolism and body weight over time, as childhood obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Another study showed the link between sugary beverages and type 2 diabetes risk, but noted added sugars added to all beverages and foods may increase risk in both infants and children.⁵,

Mental Health

The relationship between sugar and mental health in children has also been explored.

Mental health problems are rampant in today’s youth, and much of it can be prevented or managed through diet. Higher consumption of sugary beverages and foods is associated with increased anxiety and depression symptoms in children and adolescents, as seen in several studies.⁷,

This negative impact on mental health appears to be even more pronounced when combining high added sugar intake with fast food consumption.⁹

Mood and Behavior

In addition to overall mental health, the impact of sugar on child behavior is another area of research. Too much added sugar may influence a child’s mood and behavior, particularly in children with autism.

One study found that increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages worsened emotional problems and behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder. Other studies note a link between added sugar consumption and difficulty processing emotions, however not all of these studies were done in children.¹⁰

More research is needed on the impact of sugar on a child’s mood and behavior who doesn’t have autism spectrum disorder, but early studies show there may be an association in all children. Either way, promoting a nutritious, balanced diet low in added sugar is still a good move to reduce the risk of mood and behavior problems later in life.

Influence on Cognitive Development

Too much added sugar may affect a child’s ability to learn and remember important information. Early research showed an association between added sugar and cognitive development delays and poor abilities, and so research in children has now been done.

Research found that exposure at a young age to foods high in added sugar had negative effects on their development and overall cognition. Exposure later in life also posed problems including reduced cognitive and language abilities.11,12

Overconsumption of added sugar during pregnancy long-term can also have a detrimental effect on cognitive function in the child later in life. Therefore, reducing added sugar intake during pregnancy and choosing no-added-sugar choices is one way you can support your little one's health.13

Dental Health

The risk of sugar and dental health problems in children is perhaps one of the most well known risks, and it is one of the leading causes of tooth decay in children.14

In a review of 10 studies on sugar on dental health, daily consumption of juice, eating candy more than once a week, and having soft drinks and sweet drinks at bedtime were associated with an increased risk of dental caries, i.e. cavities.15

Swapping candy or juice with a treat free from added sugar like Keto Pint ice creams can help reduce this risk.

How Parents Can Make Better Food Choices for Their Kids

To promote healthy eating for kids, you can start with reducing their intake of sugary beverages like soda, juice, and energy drinks, as well as candy and other sweets high in added sugar.

In addition, you can keep naturally sweet foods on hand such as their favorite frozen or fresh fruits, which can satisfy a sweet tooth and contain essential vitamins and fiber for regularity.

In addition to fruit, your child will inevitably want a healthier sweet treat alternative. Keto Pint ice cream pints and ice cream bars fit the bill as they are free of added sugar and also contain no artificial sweeteners. With only natural sweeteners like monk fruit and allulose from plants, Keto Pint ice cream is ones you can feel good about serving to your child.





    • Understanding the harmful effects of sugar on child development is crucial as it can help parents make informed decisions about their children's diet.
    • Excessive sugar consumption in childhood is linked to obesity, diabetes, and dental issues, highlighting the importance of monitoring sugar intake.
    • Educating parents about these effects empowers them to prioritize their children's health and well-being by promoting healthier eating habits.

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