BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Need another healthy reason to get kids back into the classroom after COVID-19? A new study finds children are getting their sugar fix at home rather than at school. In fact, researchers University of Birmingham say the amount of sugar consumed by junior high and high school students is highest in homemade meals – with breakfast being the biggest culprit.
The study reveals teenagers in the United Kingdom consume, on average, three times the recommended daily amount of sugar. Kids with a sweet tooth face a higher risk of obesity and diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels.
Health officials in the U.S. and the U.K. have put considerable effort into reducing the amount of sugar children eat in snacks and school meals. However, researchers conclude youngsters are still getting their sugar fix elsewhere. Understanding when and where teenagers eat sugary treats is key to improving childhood health.
“High free sugar consumption was associated with eating outside of school time rather than inside school time,” says study author Abigail Stewart in a media release.
“As most interventions to reduce childhood obesity have been based in school, it is important to consider targeting interventions to reduce child obesity and free sugar consumption at home, at main mealtimes.”
The ‘most important meal of the day’ is full of sugar
Study authors selected a range of secondary schools in the West Midlands, including both public and private schools. Each school volunteered a class of 11 to 12-year-olds, a class of 13 to 14-year-olds, and a class of 14 to 15-years-olds to participate in the study. The team asked each pupil to complete a questionnaire and record their food and drink intake over the next 24 hours using a tool called “Intake24.”
Researchers also recorded how each child’s sugar intake was distributed across six meals and snacks. These included breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as early, afternoon, and late-day snacks. Additionally, the study took note of the times of each meal and whether kids ate them in or outside school.
Results show students consumed on average 14.5 grams (0.5 ounces) of sugar while in school. However, they ate 37.0 grams (1.3 ounces) outside school hours. Across meal times, sugar intake peaked during breakfast, with an average hit of 8.8 grams (0.3 ounces).
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Surprisingly, researchers discovered the amount of sugar consumed during snacks was lower than at meal times. The team says that could be because a large portion of the 813 pupils who participated in the study did not snack at all. Meanwhile, the study finds a student’s age, gender, ethnicity, or level of social and economic status did not have any affect on their appetite for sugar. This contradicts current research which suggests demographic factors play an important role in determining children’s diets.
“This could suggest that environmental or physical factors are present in homes which increase sugar consumption and should be further studied,” Stewart adds. “However, these findings are surprising considering students are left to decide their own meals whilst at school. Perhaps school environments promote a lower sugar consumption, or there are more treats available at home.”
The team presented their findings at this year’s European Congress on Obesity.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.