Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about sugar. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Sugar. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

According to the American Heart Association, increased sugar consumption over the past few decades is partly responsible for the rise in obesity in the United States, and obesity increases the risk for heart disease. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foods with added sugars—including high-fructose corn syrup—contribute about 16% of the calories in the average American diet. Surveys show that the average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 3 teaspoons (12 grams) per day for kids, 5 teaspoons (20 grams) for adult women, and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for adult men. These recommended daily allowances are easily exceeded with just one bowl of cereal! Researchers and health professionals advise that all people—children and adults alike—limit their daily sugar intake, maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, and exercise regularly. This movie will explore how sugar affects the body and mood, identify foods that have high sugar content (including foods and drinks with “hidden” sources of sugar), and discuss ways to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

Discuss children’s experiences of how they feel after eating a sweet treat, such as a slice of cake. Did they feel energetic? What did they do? Explain that our bodies use sugar to get quick energy. After we eat something sugary, we get a boost of energy. Some people even feel hyper. However, the energy does not last very long because sugar stimulates the body to release insulin, a chemical that quickly drives down the level of sugar in the blood. During a “sugar crash,” people might feel tired or even grouchy. Remind children that sugar consumption can make our moods and our energy levels go up and down, like a rollercoaster. It can even make us feel a little sick or give us a headache.

Review with children that the amount of energy the body gets from food is measured in calories. You may want to show a few different food labels and help children read the number of calories in each item. A snack pack of carrots has about 35 calories, while a serving of celery sticks has about only 20 calories. Compare the calories in healthy snacks to sugary treats. A chocolate bar might have over 200 calories, while a slice of cake can have over 400 calories. Help children understand that foods higher in sugar have more calories.

Explain that the calories our bodies do not use for energy get stored as fat. Over a long period of time, this can lead to health problems, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years has increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008, and obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.

Overconsumption of sugary foods leads to tooth decay and cavities. Sugar promotes bacteria growth in the mouth to form plaque, even after brushing the teeth. The bacteria feed off the sugar and produce an acid, which can break down the enamel of teeth over time and lead to cavities.

Help children understand what foods and beverages are high in sugar. Foods such as cakes, cookies, candies and other types of junk food have tons of added sugar and are high in calories and low in nutrients. Soda is also loaded with added sugar. A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda can have about 17 teaspoons of sugar, or 170 calories. One soda a day for one year will add up to over 60,000 calories! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 50% of our sugar intake comes from beverages. It is important for children to know that fruit juice might seem healthy, but might have a lot of added sugar. Fruit punch, for example, can have almost as many calories as a soda. Children are better off eating the fruit that is in the fruit punch than drinking the beverage. Milk is a nutritious drink, but flavored milk is often loaded with sugar—some flavored milk even has more sugar than candy does!

Educate children on foods with hidden sources of sugar. For example, some types of cereal, especially those marketed to children, can also have tons of added sugar. Some of these cereals have more sugar than a doughnut. Crackers, sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, and even breads can be loaded with sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Children should keep condiments to a minimum and focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Help them understand that if they load up on sugary snacks, they’ll end up eating less food that’s actually nutritious.

Help children make healthy choices when they eat. Teach them that they don’t have to stop eating sugar all together. Rather, they should learn to moderate their intake and choose nutritious options during mealtimes. Help children learn how to read food labels and compare calories or sugar content. They might be surprised to discover flavored yogurt can have twice the number of calories and sugar as plain yogurt! Children should limit their consumption of sweet treats and should wait to eat them until after they have had a nutritious meal. Help children become conscious of what they put into their bodies and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Filed as:  Food, Health, K-3, Sugar