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Child’s Sweet Tooth May Be All in the Bones

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

It’s a problem every parent faces: a child may only eat a few bites of a well-planned, nutritious dinner and say they’re full. But then a few minutes later, they have no problem eating a large bowl of ice cream. Now parents can blame it on growing bones.

New research conducted by the University of Washington suggests that children who are growing rapidly have a higher preference for sweets than children growing at a slower rate.

The researchers gave 143 ages 11 to 15 sugar-water and orange Kool-Aid with increasing levels of sweetness. Then they classified the children into two groups: high preference or low preference for sweetness. They found that children who had the highest levels of a biomarker for bone growth in their urine were most likely to be in the group that likes the sweetest drinks.

“It’s been know for a long time that children have an incredible sweet tooth -’Give me Cocoa Puffs and add more sugar,’” said Susan Coldwell, an associate professor of dental health sciences at the University of Washington and the lead author of the study. “They are using a lot of calories during growth, and the body is responding to that by an increased sweet preference.”

Researchers say there could be multiple reasons children choose cupcakes over spinach, they might be driven to consume sugar because their young bodies can efficiently convert it into energy to fuel growth, Coldwell said.

But some researchers said the study does not prove that rapid growth is the cause of the sweet preference.

“It is a provocative theory that the body in some way craves sweets in order to get adequate calories for growth,” said Lona Sandon, a registered dietician and an American Diabetic Association spokesperson. “But the study does not prove cause and effect, and the mechanism of this theory is unknown.”

In the study, the researchers also tested for biological factors associated with puberty, including sex hormones and found that they were not associated with sweet preferences.

So what does this mean for parents who are worried about their child’s sugar consumption?

“People worry a lot about their kids having this big sweet tooth,” Coldwell said. “One thing we can reassure parents is that kids do have a natural developmental downward shift in preference for sweets. Tastes do change in puberty.”

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