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A Sign of Dysfunction? What Children’s Sugar Consumption May Reveal

A Sign of Dysfunction? What Children’s Sugar Consumption May Reveal
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Few things are as popular with children as sugar. Of course, some kids are especially drawn to sugary foods and drinks. This dietary habit might reveal more than the presence of a sweet tooth. A recent study suggests that a child’s sugar-filled diet could be indicative of serious familial problems.

Better Home, Better Diet?

Authored by a team of UK-based researchers, this report reviewed data collected by the East London Family (ELF) study, a research project examining two generations of families in specific boroughs of London. The purpose of the ELF study is to determine how family functionality (or lack thereof) affects oral health.

Thanks to the ELF database, the research team was able to access data from nearly 1,200 children ages three to four. The ELF study also provided relevant information regarding the children’s parents. After analyzing this information, the researchers concluded that a household’s functionality could influence a child’s sugar intake. Compared to their less fortunate counterparts, children in relatively stable households were 67 percent less likely to consume at least four sugary products on a daily basis.

The study authors did not limit their focus to just traditional, two parent families. Instead, they also examined children raised by single parents, divorced parents, cohabiting couples and same-sex partners. When it came to measuring “effective family functioning,” the researchers looked at a family’s ability to “manage daily life and resolve problems in the context of warm and affective family interactions, through clear communication, well-defined roles and flexible behavior control.”

Seeking Happiness

In order to test the validity of their findings, the researchers considered other factors that might contribute to familial dysfunction. In keeping with this task, the study measured the impact of financial status and educational achievement on ELF participants. Neighborhood quality was also taken into account. These additional factors did not affect the association between childhood sugar consumption and the family functionality.

The authors contend that problems within the family drive children towards sugary treats, which can serve as a short-term emotional boost. In a press release detailing the team’s findings, lead researcher Wagner Marcenes noted that “a functional family is a major source of pleasure in life, providing comfort and reward. In contrast, dysfunctional families are a major source of frustration and stress — and this can lead to high sugar consumption in the search for the ‘feel-good’ effect.”

Having established the possibility that children use sugar as a mental crutch, the researchers hope to develop a reliable method for improving inter-familial relationships. “Public health needs to move beyond the naive belief that health education based on risk awareness raising programs alone will lead to behavioral change across the population,” stated Marcenes. “It is crucial to understand why we crave for sugar and to identify factors that help people to deal with sugar craving. We need to focus on the wider determinants of health behavior and lifestyle, such as socio-psychological factors.”

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