Too Much Sugar Can Cause Health Problems in Kids

Boy with candy jar, counting candies
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Many parents get into the habit of giving their kids candy or other sugary treats as a reward or incentive for good behavior. However, this can become a concern if a child is eating it in excess as there is evidence that too much sugar may be harmful. Read on to find out about the potentially harmful effects that sugar can have on kids.

Sugar Addiction

Eating too much sugar, and developing into what some have termed "sugar addiction," has several potential physical and psychological harms to kids. Sugar addiction is a specific type of food addiction and has been shown to develop in animal studies and to have similarities with certain kinds of drug addiction.

Therefore, parents should be concerned if their child experiences withdrawal symptoms when they do not have sugary food for a day or two.

Withdrawal symptoms for sugar addiction can include mood changes, such as irritability, and physical symptoms, such as tremors, or changes in activity level, such as your child becoming more overactive, or lethargic than usual.

The physical harms of too much sugar include obesity, malnutrition, and tooth decay.


While it is widely known that too much sugar can cause people to put on weight, parents may be surprised to learn that even overweight kids can suffer from malnutrition. Many people believe that malnutrition is a result of not getting enough food, but this is inaccurate.

Malnutrition is commonly misunderstood to mean starvation. In fact, it means poor nutrition, as in the case of someone who is under or overnourished. When someone consumes too much of a nutrient, such as sugar, the result can be overnutrition. When someone does not eat enough of a nutrient or nutrients, the result can be undernutrition.

Malnutrition can occur when a person either does not get enough or gets too much of a specific nutrient or nutrients—like sugar.

Even if your son is getting enough energy from sugar, he also needs protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, such as calcium and iron, in order to function properly. Your daughter may not be getting enough of these other nutrients, even if she is overweight.

Iron and calcium are particularly important for growing children, as children do not have stores of these minerals the way that adults do, and they need more and more of these minerals to provide for the growth of their bones and blood supply. These minerals may not be present in adequate amounts in sugary foods.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is painful and can be caused or exacerbated by eating excessive sugary foods and beverages. Tooth decay can potentially cost your child much more than the need for fillings, or even losing teeth. If left untreated, it can lead to severe illness, and in extreme cases, even death.

While good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing twice daily, and regular dental checkups, can help to prevent tooth decay, regular candy, and soda consumption increases the likelihood of your child developing tooth decay and gum disease.

Psychological Harms

Eating too much sugar, for example, eating candy on a daily basis, also has been shown to cause potential psychological harm.

One particular study showed a clear link between daily candy consumption in ten-year-olds and violence in later life. This research looked at a sample of individuals at age 10 and then later in adulthood. Their daily candy consumption as a child was assessed. The researchers found that, of those who committed violent crimes, nearly 70% ate candy every day as children, compared to 42% who did not go on to commit violent crimes.

The authors of the study speculated that this phenomenon is related to parents using candy to control their children's behavior, which gets in the way of children learning to delay gratification. Other research has shown that not being able to delay gratification is related to delinquency. As well as giving kids too much sugar, candy also contains additives which have shown some association with behavioral issues.

Although giving your child sweets might seem like the easiest way to get him to do what you ask, you could very well be setting him up for problems by giving him too much sugar. Try using effective discipline methods instead.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Chadeayne, A., and Hoebel, B. Evidence That Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake Causes Endogenous Opioid Dependence. Obesity Research, 10(6), 478-488. 2002. ​

  • Moore, S.C., Carter, L.M., Van Goozen, and S.H.M. Confectionary Consumption in Childhood and Adult Violence.British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(4), 366-367. 2009.