Q. This summer I took my daughter, Stacey, and granddaughter, Kendra, on a trip. During layovers in each airport, my granddaughter would ask her mother for permission to buy a sack of candy and get a sugary drink. Stacey never said, “No.”During our vacation, Kendra continued to consume a lot of candy and “slushies”from fast food restaurants. My daughter said I shouldn’t worry about how much sugar Kendra takes in as she is already a teenager, very slender and engaged in several sports. Unspoken are two messages: one, that she is Kendra’s mother and she will decide what is best and two, that Kendra will never get “fat.”Is unlimited sugar bad for teens, even slender, sports-minded ones? If it is unhealthy, how could I get my daughter to put a limit on Kendra’s sugar intake?

A. Pay attention to the idea that your daughter doesn’t want you telling her how to parent. This is usually the case with grown daughters who are mothers. Stacey probably seeks approval rather than censure. You need to give her approval for parenting things she does well. This approval will build a better relationship with your daughter and be helpful as you try to finesse some healthy changes for your granddaughter.

You’ve asked if sugar is bad for teens, even slender, sports-minded ones. In my opinion, it is bad. Parents who drink lots of sugary drinks themselves, as well as businesses making money on teen consumption of sugary drink and food, might disagree. Is all sugar intake bad? No, it’s the unlimited use that seems unhealthy.

Why is unlimited sugar bad for teens? In 2009, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation presented a research synthesis entitled “The Negative Impact of Sugar Sweetened Beverages on Children’s Health.”This paper pointed out that in the past 30 years, children and adolescents in this country have greatly increased their consumption of sugar sweetened beverages. Negative effects of these drinks were identified as: less healthy diets, decreased bone density, dental decay, headache, anxiety and loss of sleep. More research was suggested.

Recent research on the effect of glucose (sugar) on the brains of slender adolescent girls was reported in Weight Management HUB by Naseem S. Miller in an article titled “Glucose Lights Up the Adolescent Brain.”Is this “lighting up”similar to that found in addiction? What effect does it have on the areas of the developing adolescent brain that are lighting up? Researchers are looking at the different effects of glucose on obese girls and adults as well as slender teens. One question that researchers are trying to answer is: will slender girls who drink significant amounts of sugary drinks become obese later? We might also ask: if slender teens take in a lot of sugar and become obese later, will it be because of some effect of overconsumption of sugar earlier, or because they continue sugar use but don’t keep up the physical activity of their teenage years or because of a slowing of metabolism?

What can you do to help your granddaughter limit her sugar intake? You could try challenging her to research the effects of sugary drink consumption. Get her to look at the slide show on Web MD’s The Fit Teen (fit.webmd.com/teen/food/slideshow/slideshow-teens-sugar) entitled “Sugar: The other teen drinking problem.”She will learn that four sugary drinks can contain as much as 41 teaspoons of sugar, which equals about 38 chocolate chip cookies. Another website with information from Harvard on child and teen consumption of sugar is hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/. In addition, you might be able to get Kendra to consider a science fair project or other school project around her research on sugar consumption. Help her compare the amount of sugar in sports drinks, fast food chain drinks, sodas, fruit juice, etc. Take Kendra grocery shopping and read labels to find the sugar content. Read-ing labels onfruit juice in the grocery store   will reveal that some servings of a particular juice have five grams of sugar and some have 28 grams or more. Ultimately, it will be your granddaughter who will decide what she eats and drinks, so working with her will probably have better results than expecting your daughter to do something about Kendra’s sugar consumption.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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