Among known health challenges that could be triggered by unwholesome sugar consumption, child health and nutrition experts say feeding children less than five years with fruit juice laden with excess sugar may predispose them to risks of developing heart disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes. According to them, many of the fruit juices sold in markets are packed with sugar, including those with claims of ‘no sugar or additive added’. Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise, the experts noted that lots of children consuming sugary drinks indiscriminately are coming down with obesity, a known factor that predisposes people to other major non-communicable diseases that were once associated with only adults. A Consultant Paediatric Haematologist and Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Professor Edamisan Temiye, said sugary drinks promote obesity in children. He warned mothers to desist from feeding their children to be obese, warning that such an act has dangerous side effects. The consultant said some mothers buy all sorts of unhealthy food and treats to make their children look chubby, but noted that it is better for a child to be healthy by eating foods that promote good health than to be sickness-prone by eating junk foods that makes them chubby. “We don’t know what they mix in the juice but one thing for sure is that they are packed with sugar. And feeding children with excessive sugar is not good. “Artificial fruit juices are sweetened with sugar. Sugary drinks promote obesity in children. Parents should run away from buying sugary drinks. There is nothing as dangerous as obesity in children.
“When you have obesity, you are going to develop hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Obesity is also known to promote cancer. It has been shown that when a child is obese, the child will have all these health conditions,” Prof. Temiye said. The American Academy of Pediatrics warned that there is no nutritional indication to give fruit juice to infants younger than six months. “Offering juice before solid foods are introduced into the diet could risk having juice replace human milk or infant formula in the diet, which can result in reduced intakes of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc. “Malnutrition and short stature in children have been associated with excessive consumption of juice”, it stated. Speaking further, Prof. Temiye said some obesity in adults can be traced to childhood obesity. He said,” Many children with obesity now suffer from hypertension. We are now seeing children between the ages of four years to eight years coming down with hypertension and they are obese. “Obesity is not good for anyone, and it’s worse in children. Children with obesity will develop hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. From childhood, we monitor them and have discovered that they have these conditions. “A lot of people don’t know that children can develop hypertension. Yes, children do have hypertension. We are now finding it in them! There are so many studies that we have carried out that showed children are having hypertension. Sedentary lifestyle is also a major problem.” The professor urged mothers to feed their children foods and drinks high in nutritional benefits and not junk, adding, “Importantly, let them take lots of water.” Also, a nutrition expert, Professor Ignatius Onimawo, said one cannot guarantee the safety of sweeteners added to artificial fruit juice.
The professor, who is a former Vice-Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, said, “A juice that has been added all kinds of preservatives and sweeteners should be discouraged. Even adults should be careful about consuming all these sugary drinks. “They will tell you there’s no sugar added, but it’s a lie. They have lots of sugar. It may not be just sugar, as they can add some other sweeteners. Fruit juice that has artificial sweeteners should not be given to children under five.” The former President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria noted that processed juice does children so much disservice. “Some of the additives are capable of bioaccumulation (a process of accumulation of chemicals in an organism that takes place if the rate of intake exceeds the rate of excretion). These are some of the reasons why children are coming down with Type 2 diabetes. It should be given sparingly”, he advised. In a study published in an online journal, PMC, the researchers said childhood obesity could profoundly affect children’s physical health, social and emotional well-being, as well as self-esteem. According to them, there is supporting evidence that excessive sugar intake in soft drinks, increased portion size and a steady decline in physical activities have also been known to play major roles in the rising rates of obesity all over the world. Highlighting other dangers of childhood obesity, they said,” It is also associated with poor academic performance and a lower quality of life experienced by the child. “Many co-morbid conditions like metabolic, cardiovascular, orthopedic, neurological, hepatic, pulmonary, and renal disorders are also seen in association with childhood obesity.” According to VeryWell Family, an online health portal, beyond the long-term prevention of diabetes and heart disease, avoiding added sugars can keep children from having to undergo painful and expensive dental treatment. It noted that tooth decay is exacerbated by the regular consumption of sugary foods and beverages, adding, “If untreated, dental problems can lead to serious infections (even when they are just baby teeth).