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Can restricting sugar from a child set up an imbalance later in life?

By March 17, 2009 - 9:24am
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My sister has four children, three girls and a boy. When her first, Jenny, was young, my sister kept her intake of sugar to a minimum, always offering fruit instead of cookies or candy, for instance. And it seemed to work wonderfully -- later in Jenny's childhood, if you'd offer her a choice between candy and fruit, for instance, she genuinely preferred the fruit.

Today, however, Jenny is 21, and has been overweight for most of her life (she started getting chubby around age 8). With the other three children, my sister did not restrict their sugar intake (She supervised it, of course, but did not make a point of it as she had with Jenny). None of the three younger children have any sort of a weight issue; they are active and lean. (Jenny was quite active and was even on the dance team in high school, which meant two hours of practice daily, but stayed overweight).

My sister regularly beats herself up over "causing" Jenny's difficulty with weight by what she did to restrict sugar intake when Jenny was a baby and toddler. She thinks that in essence, Jenny's young body didn't learn to process sugar correctly. Could she be right?

I'd really like to help her let herself off the hook for this one. Do you have thoughts? Or experiences with your own children?

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I tend to agree with Free2Bme that there may be other mitigating circumstances surrounding Jenny's daughter's weight issues. Our food industry has gotten away with adding a ridiculous amount of sugars, sodium and other chemicals to the products we buy - all to enhance taste, as though natural doesn't taste good enough (okay, sometimes it doesn't).

Has Jenny's daughter seen a doctor about her weight problems?

March 17, 2009 - 4:52pm

I can not imagine that your sister caused any type of physical malfunction in her daughter's body. Fruit has quite a bit of sugar in it (I know it's fructose and not refined), so it does not make sense that by not allowing her candy that this "caused" her to not process sugar correctly. Many cultures do not have candy and this does not make for a cause-and-effect relationship to overweight. What are the other factors? (And, as a mother myself, I find it hard to believe that her daughter NEVER had ANY refined sugars...sugar is in everything, including ketchup and other "kid staples", and unless Jenny lived in a bubble away from other people for the first 8 years of her life, I'm sure she had sugar in her diet from school or friends or other parents!!) Did she ever have a birthday cake at a friend's house?

Also, from my understanding, Jenny's "difficulty with weight" likely has little to do with sugar, and more to do with environmental messages regarding food in general. Were there other areas of restriction in Jenny's food and/or areas of power struggles or control involving food that she grew up with? Honestly, if you have a child, there will always be some struggle with food, potty, bedtime, bath time, you name it. But, I'm asking if there were extreme power and control struggles over food, or if you really are speaking about this one specific area regarding refined sugar. I know many, many parents who do not allow their kids to have any sodas, and I hardly think that they are causing their children harm!

So, I think your sister is likely "off the hook" for causing any physical problems related to the inability to process sugar...that seems far fetched, but your sister could look at any other signs of food struggles (related to disordered eating) that her daughter may have. Mothers take on too much blame, so I would be careful with that question.

What is Jenny's take on this? Does she over-eat when she is bored, tired, mad, sad or otherwise emotional? Why is there the assumption that this "problem" is physical and not behavioral or emotional? Does Jenny exercise; is it a simple equation of too much consumption and not enough calorie-burning?

March 17, 2009 - 1:34pm
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