HomeHealth articleseffects of sugar and sweeteners in childrenWhat Are the Effects of Sugar and Sweeteners in Children?

Effects of Sugar and Sweeteners in Children - An Overview

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Children are more likely to consume sugar; thus, monitoring and restricting their intake is important. Read below to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Published At March 4, 2024
Reviewed AtApril 3, 2024


Children are very fond of sugary food, and a lot of sugars and sweeteners have been added to food items, supplements, or medications to enhance their flavor. However, these sugary substances have the potential to be addictive. So, children's exposure to sugars or sweeteners happens more frequently due to food, medications, etc., they consume. This elevated level of sugar consumption leads to various health complications like decaying teeth, childhood obesity, a decrease in energy levels, and altering the dietary intake and nutritional balance. As growing children, physical activity and growth are essential, but considering their age, they cannot be too responsible about what they eat; monitoring a child's diet at a very early period of growth is very important to teach them the right foods to be taken. While the practice of eating suitable food can be done from the onset of weaning, limiting sugars to the maximum can be highly beneficial.

What Are Artificial Sweeteners, and What Are Their Types?

Artificial sweeteners are laboratory-made sugar substitutes that are made to be used as substances that enhance the taste of food and sweets without using natural sugars while retaining the taste. Food containing such sweeteners is often termed food with zero calories, as the calorie levels in these foods are usually zero to very minimal when compared to other sugary foods. But though these sweeteners can be beneficial in cutting down the calories, extreme care should be taken by gradually increasing the quantity while introducing these to the digestive system of children, giving it time to adapt. Generally, there are two most commonly used sugar substitutes that are often used in children’s food, and they are sucralose (it is a synthetically manufactured sweetener that is most predominantly used across the globe) and aspartame (this is an artificial sweetener made from phenyl). Both of these sweeteners, when given in small quantities, are considered safe, and they are the most common choice preferred in children's medications and snacks.

What Is the Impact of Sugar and Sweeteners on Health?

As discussed, both sugar and sweeteners work similarly by altering the flavor of the food. These sugars that enter the body are processed and converted into glucose that provides energy to the body. Here, when the non-caloric artificial sweeteners are consumed, they tend to produce a low energy level compared to the normal sugars. Meanwhile, in children, these sweeteners, when metabolized in the gut, can produce more negative effects than normal sugars, leading to stomach pain or upset. When exposed in the long term, they can decrease gut function and lead to childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is the clinically acknowledged level of increase in body fat in children that can have an overall influence on their body functioning. Also, care should be taken to limit the amount of sugar given to the children and cleanse the mouth after every sugar intake, as it can lead to very fast-growing tooth decay and associated pain.

How Safe Is the Usage of Sugar and Sugar Substitutes in Children?

Based on the report given by the World Health Organization (WHO), children around the age of seven to ten can consume only 18 to 24 grams of sugar and not more than that. Also, an increase in sugar consumption can lead to various health problems like heart diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cancer. So, the amount of sugar given to a child is a very predominant factor that a parent should consider. This includes all the sugar substances like natural sugars and substitutes. The sugar allowance or the amount to be given depends on the age, weight, and height of the children.

  • Children Below the Age of Two and Infants: For children under the age of two or younger, especially infants, sugar substitutes are very consciously avoided. This is because these artificial substances can alter the growth and development of both the body and brain of the child.

  • Children Above Two Years of Age: Children above the age of two often show a well-developed body and brain depending on their nutritional intake. In such cases, it should be of primary importance that the child gets the nutrients required for daily growth, followed by a balanced diet. However, when considering sugar substitutes, this particular group of children develops a habit of consuming a lot of soft drinks, chocolates, biscuits, and chips, and most of these products come with traces of artificial sugar. However, a daily allowance of six to eight ounces of food containing sugar substitutes could possibly be given.

  • Children Above the Age of Two With Type 1 Diabetes: In children above the age of two with type 1 diabetes, it is still advisable to consume artificial sweeteners. Here, type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body is reliant on improper insulin levels due to the depletion of pancreatic cells. Although the condition is serious, the exact cause of the disease is unknown and can be associated with genetics or environmental factors. In these children, sugar substitutes are a better choice than natural sugar, and they stabilize the blood sugar level and help the child's performance.

  • Children With Phenylketonuria: Children with phenylketonuria (phenylketonuria is an uncommon genetic condition seen due to an increase in the levels of phenylalanine (a particular protein in the blood) are entirely contraindicated to consuming these artificial sweeteners as their bodies may find it difficult to digest and may cause complications in the body.

As this article gives an insight into how sugars and sugar substitutes can be alternately used, here are some foods that are safe and recommended for children to consume and they are breast milk or milk formula for children below the age of one, followed by water and cow’s milk for children at the age of one to two years old and for kids above the age of two, low-fat milk is generally recommended.


As sweets and sweeteners can be addictive to children, prolonging their exposure to dietary sugars or artificial sweeteners is essential. This creates an overall well-being and development of the child, providing it with proper nutrition and preventing it from experiencing all the possible drawbacks. However, it is important for the parent to always keep track of the amount of sugar given to the child and the way it is consumed to support the child’s growth and development. In case of any medical conditions, it is necessary to consult a physician’s help and follow the recommended dietary pattern.

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Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham
Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham



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