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How your children may be eating up to 70 teaspoons of sugar a day: Check out this shocking experiment

How your children may be eating up to 70 teaspoons of sugar a day: Check out this shocking experiment

The straw which broke the camel’s back was an after-school birthday party. There was to be a bouncy castle, an expensive entertainer, and a church hall packed full of friends in celebratory mood. Yet all that our two children cared about was getting their hands on as many sweets as possible.

And this on a day when both Jessica, who’s eight, and James, who’s six, had been to school cake sales … and in a week when they’d eaten so much sugar their tantrums, mood-swings, disrupted sleep and appalling behaviour were off the scale.

My wife Jennie and I were in despair. How had it come to this? As responsible, healthy eating parents, we’ve done everything to instil good habits in our children and to keep their sugar intake to a minimum, yet they were behaving like a couple of addicts.

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Sugar is now known to be a major contributing factor to obesity, diabetes and cancer, and Government guidelines suggest children of Jess and James’s age should not consume more than 60g daily. In fact, there is a growing body of well-respected medical opinion that recommended intake should be halved to 30g a day — 210g a week.

Ambitious, yes, but advice that Jennie and I do our best to follow. Yet we fail every time.

The problem is that sugar is everywhere: from school dinners to snacks at after-school clubs and playdates. Children are bombarded with the stuff from the minute they step out of the door. It’s impossible for parents to police their intake.

So how much sugar are our children actually consuming? To find out, I kept a diary and calculated what Jess and James are eating over a seven-day period. What I found truly horrified me.


After a weekend at Grandma’s, with the inevitable ice-creams and scones slathered in jam and cream, we were determined to get back to our healthy ways. Breakfast was porridge made with full-fat milk, but no honey, fruit or berries.

School dinners, however, are out of our hands. Especially for James, who gets his for free under the much-trumpeted Government initiative of free school meals for children up to age seven. So it is that our children are served something called chocolate cracknell for their dessert.

While this does not contain actual chocolate (hurrah) but a mixture of cocoa powder and powdered milk, far and away the most substantial ingredient is golden syrup — which is full of sugar. Small wonder that the children love it.

Later, at the school gates, I watched as parents handed out biscuits to their children while James and Jess took the apples I’d brought for them.

I was both surprised and suspicious that James wasn’t protesting too much. Then I learned a classmate had brought in a chocolate cake for his birthday.

We served a healthy dinner of chicken, carrots and broccoli, followed by a satsuma each.

Jess: 30g or 7 teaspoons of sugar (20g dessert, 10g apple)

James: 50g or 12 teaspoons (20g dessert, 20g cake, 10g apple)


Both Jess and James have eaten porridge without any added sweeteners since they were tiny, so they both enjoy it that way. Jessica asked for some raspberries but we are due a big shop so the cupboard is bare.

Besides the usual school dessert — sponge pudding and custard (six teaspoons of sugar) — it’s another day of relative abstinence for Jess.

Not such a great day for James, however. He didn’t like his school dinner (except dessert, naturally) so came out in a foul mood, saying he was ‘starving’. My wife cracked and a restorative hot cross bun (four teaspoons of sugar) did the trick.

Then he went off for a playdate, during which he consumed a packet of sweets and a chocolate mousse, before getting home and spoiling for a fight with his sister.

How much of this is testosterone overload after spending the evening with his mate is hard to tell, but the relationship between his violent outbursts and sugar intake is well established. This is why we have long since banned cola drinks altogether.

Jess: 30g or 7 teaspoons of sugar (20g dessert, 10g fruit snack)

James: 100g or 24 teaspoons (20g dessert, 10g snack, 50g sweets, 20g mousse)


Today the wheels came off. Bran Flakes for breakfast (with no raisins or honey) may seem like a frugal offering, but often breakfast is the only meal we can control.

Though Jess takes fruit into school as her mid-morning snack, large numbers of children bring in sweets — which they then share around their friends. An easy way to ensure popularity but slightly disturbing for those parents trying to instil good eating habits.

As well as the habitual lunchtime pudding, James had cookery club at school. So what did they make? Why cake, of course. He devoured it with understandable pride.

Jessica, meanwhile, emerged from school with a packet of sweets. Apparently every child in her class was given one to celebrate a fellow pupil’s birthday. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you consider that, with 30 children in each class, they are ‘celebrating’ more than once a fortnight.

After school she had a friend over, who arrived with another bag of sweets as a treat. They then headed off to a friend’s for tea, where they were served ice-cream for dessert. Then it was off to Brownies, where their activity — astonishingly — is baking cupcakes: huge great things, swimming in lurid-coloured icing.

It is saying something that Jessica could not finish hers, depositing half of it in the bin on the walk home.

Jess: 300g or 70 teaspoons of sugar (25g dessert, 20g fruit snack, 60g school sweets, 120g friend’s sweets, 25g ice-cream, 50g cupcake)

James: 100g or 24 teaspoons (25g dessert, 10g fruit snack, 40g cake, 25g ice-cream)


Determined to put things right, it was back to the porridge to fill the children up until lunchtime. Jess was under strict instructions to stick to her own snack, a yoghurt with ‘no added sugar’. It’s the best we can find, but it is still sweetened.

The restraint lasted until lunchtime, with the routine dessert. James emerged from swimming, surrounded by children being handed sweets and chocolate ‘to keep them going’. Jen had prepared a ham sandwich — cue complete meltdown on his part at the injustice of it all.

Once again, my wife is made to feel like a pariah. She knows that every time the subject comes up, some people will roll their eyes, saying: ‘Here she goes again, rattling on about sugar.’

It’s hard to understand how people can care so much about their children’s education, while turning a blind eye to the sheer volume of sugar in their diets.

After school, the children have tea at a friend’s house, where they are offered a chocolate mousse.

On Thursday nights, Jess has drama group. She used to take fruit with her — until we discovered she was the only one with a healthy snack. So we caved in and allowed her to take a bag of ‘healthy’ crisps. How could we make her be the odd one out, she pleaded?

Not that it makes any difference, apparently, as they all share their goodies anyway.

Jess: 80g or 20 teaspoons of sugar (10g yoghurt, 30g dessert, 20g mousse, 20g shared sweets)

James: 60g or 14 teaspoons (30g dessert, 20g mousse, 10g snack)


More Bran flakes, the inevitable pudding with lunch, then we all sit down for a family dinner of roast chicken. So far so good.

Or at least it would have been but for the fact that both the children’s schools had held charity cake sales. These seem to be almost weekly occasions, when the children positively stampede to stuff their faces with liberally iced treats.

Yet looking back, I cannot recall a single occasion when this happened in my school days. There was a sponsored fast, when we were encouraged to think of those less fortunate than ourselves, several sponsored walks, and a sponsored silence. No such imagination these days. Instead we bake cakes, buy cakes and feed them to our sugar-addicted children.

It is impossible to comprehend how, after Jamie Oliver and the whole Turkey Twizzler scandal, our schools can have learned so little.

Sure, they have overhauled school dinners — but as well as having an unhealthy pudding every day, they’re turning a blind eye to the cakes and sweets in the playground.

The two secondary schools our children are likely to attend both have Slush Puppy machines in the canteen. A dinner lady there told a friend of ours that it is quite common for children to order nothing but a slice of cake for their lunch.

And we wonder why there is an obesity epidemic?

The day was rounded off with a joint birthday party, where there was a chocolate fountain, complete with marshmallows for dipping. Is it a coincidence that both children woke in the middle of the night? Of course not.

Jess AND JAMES: 120g or 30 teaspoons each (20g dessert, 30g cake, 70g party food)


James, who is football mad, practises every Saturday morning and we all decamped to the training ground, where the tuck shop does a roaring trade.

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Armed with pocket money, the kids were desperate to buy sweets. But in the knowledge of what they have already consumed this week, my wife holds firm and says no. Cue tantrums and tears. It feels as if we are constantly being hit over the head with a sugar mallet, while our children act like addicts suffering withdrawal (which, on reflection, is precisely what they are).

Calm was restored when James headed off to yet another birthday party, where the tea table was groaning with cakes, biscuits and chocolate treats. He’s long since passed the stage where we are expected to stay behind at the party, so it is entirely up to him what goes on his plate.

Suffice to say not a single sandwich passed his lips — but the party rings and arctic rolls took a hammering. Small wonder he had little appetite for dinner.

Jess: 50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar (20g fruit, 30g shared sweets)

James: 200g or 48 teaspoons (20g fruit, 180g sweets, chocolates, biscuits etc at party)


Feeling slightly queasy from the indulgences of yesterday, James had toast with Marmite for breakfast and was soon perked up by the prospect of a football match.

But while he was running himself to a standstill against the rival Guildford Under 7s squad, Jessica was off to a party of her own.

As is customary on these occasions, not only do the children stuff themselves with cakes and biscuits, Jessica and her friends emerge with party bags full of sweets.

The Sunday roast passes without incident, and the children do not even ask for dessert. Have we scared them into silence? The look on my face, and on Jen’s, says it all: ‘Don’t even think about it!’

Today was a day of rest, yet Jen and I feel utterly exhausted by the sugar battle. Worst of all, we know that our efforts are in vain.

Jess: 150g or 36 teaspoons of sugar (all party food)

James: None


Jess: 760g, 182 teaspoons

James: 630g, 152 teaspoons

TOTAL: 1.39kg, 334 teaspoons


Presented with the stark reality, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that we are failing our children. This week, Jessica and James have gone through a bag-and-a-half of sugar each, nearly twice the safe amount of sugar.

So who is to blame? It would be all too easy to point the finger at our schools, who promote cake sales and allow sweets to be handed out. It’s a lovely idea — but when you look at the overall picture, the problem is far bigger than most of us realise.

Taken together, the schools, the after-school clubs, the birthday parties, football clubs and friends collaborate in a scenario which is spawning a generation of sugar addicts.

Individuals and organisations alike have a responsibility not to be force feeding our children sugar. Yet it’s a responsibility that many seem to be shirking.

In the meantime, Jennie and I will go to war again, day after day, in the ongoing battle to protect our children’s health.

Some people will roll their eyes; others will laugh. But take a good look at that pile of sugar and ask yourself one question: Does this look funny to you?


SundayWikipedia: Sunday is the day of the week following Saturday but before Monday. For most Christians, Sunday is observed as a day of worship and rest, holding it as the Lord’s Day, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Sunday is a day of rest in most Western countries, part of ‘the weekend’. In some Muslim countries, Sunday is a normal working day whereas Friday is the day of rest and prayer. According to the Hebrew calendars and traditional Christian calendars, Sunday is the first day of the week, and according to the International Organization for Standardization ISO 8601 Sunday is the seventh and last day of the week. No century in the Gregorian calendar starts on a Sunday, whether its first year is ’00 or ’01. The Jewish New Year never falls on a Sunday.

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