Teaching kids about sugar content of beverages

One out of three kids these days is overweight or obese, and consumption of sugary drinks is a big reason why. Sugary drinks also cause tooth decay (I know, big surprise there), and might even cause kids to be aggressive (or if kids think sugar has that effect, it might have a placebo effect). So I got to wondering what public schools could do … and I think that making a “sugar content” poster in kindergarten is is the way to go. The idea is to construct a display for the hallway or classroom wall that visually shows how much sugar is hidden in common beverages. Here’s an example:

Sugar in drinksThis project would fit in perfectly with most state standards (for example, see page 10 in Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools). And because it includes numbers (of teaspoons), teachers can use the poster content to visually drive discussions about addition and subtraction. If this poster was done in a fun way, the experience might vaccinate kids against over-consumption of sugary drinks for the remainder of their lives. The parallel to brushing teeth might be appropriate: you teach kids how to do it before school … even though the chemistry of decay is beyond their understanding: if you don’t brush and floss, your breath will be nasty and you’ll lose your teeth. Like many health lessons, that’s best taught to young kids.

There are lots of ways to make the poster, but what I like about the one above is that water (no sugar) and plain milk (contains lactose … which is a sugar) are included. There should also be a sampling of common juices (apple, orange, e.g.) because they are loaded with sugar. And just for scale, it might be good to show how many teaspoons of sugar are in a typical bag of candy (e.g., Skittles).

Poster titles matter here, just like they do at a scientific meeting, in that they can provide a take-home message. “Rethink your drink” is a popular title (it rhymes), but I prefer something that confronts the point more directly. Here are some ideas: “Don’t drink dessert all day”, “Don’t drink your dessert”, or “Sugary drinks are candy drinks”. If snark is allowed in your district, then something like, “Sugary drinks are a sweet way to gain weight and rot teeth!” The idea is to be direct and memorable and to not shy away from the point: sugary drinks can (and do!) make kids fat.

If you want some background information relevant to lesson plans on sugar for K-3 levels, here are some resources from BrainPOP. If you’re looking for more examples of posters, here’s a Pinterest board where I collect them:

Pinterest board Educating kindergartners about sugary drinks on Pinterest.

About Colin Purrington

PhD in evolutionary biology • twitterinstagram
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2 Responses to Teaching kids about sugar content of beverages

  1. caseyhinds says:

    Here is another example for your collection (spotted at a library):
    http://ushealthykids.org/2014/04/01/a-public-health-tale-of-two-libraries/
    The messaging with children has to be carefully worded or the teacher may face backlash for fat-shaming or instilling a diet mentality in kids. It’s a tricky balancing act even as a parent working to teach my own children.

    • I’m totally for “eating right and moving move,” but that message has clearly failed to change children’s behavior. Sure, all the kids — even the obese ones — can probably recite such phrases, but in the end most still go home to drink soda, snack ad libitum, eat adult portions, and sit on the couch watching television until bed time. Teachers need to convince young kids that going through life fat is unhealthy. Really unhealthy. It’s a simple message (potentially), just like lesson plans that could be about smoking or looking both ways before you cross the street. Currently, kids are simply not getting the message about excess weight. They are getting “I’m going to grow out of it in high school!” or “if I move a lot, I can be a healthy fat!”. It’s of course fear of the backlash, as you mention, that prevents a more honest and more effective education on the topic. And that’s why superintendents, principals, and district Wellness Committees need to charge teachers with getting to the point, and getting creative about getting kids’ full attention. There’s always going to be overweight and obese kids in the room, of course, but avoiding the truth (until high school, when it’s far too late) does a disservice to all kids, even the currently, temporarily thin. We need to get beyond the “fat-shaming” block somehow. Weight IS the issue, not just the proxies of diet and activity, both of which affect weight. Education about healthy weight can be done with sensitivity, of course, but discussion of weight really needs to become part of the conversation, not just bland “let’s move!” campaigns that avoid the issue entirely. That’s my 2 cents.

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