If you saw a pregnant woman smoking, you would undoubtedly be concerned about the health of her child. But if you saw a pregnant woman drinking a soft drink, would you bat an eye? The comparison may seem extreme but the parallels between tobacco and sugar run deeper than you might imagine.
There is no debate that passive (or secondhand) smoking is harmful. Now scientists are discovering similar risks of “secondhand sugars” in infants and children, specifically that our high-sugar environment can harm children’s development and their long-term health.
We are finding that sugar exposure can begin to affect a child even before birth. The sugars that a mother consumes while pregnant or nursing can be passed to her baby, disrupt healthy growth and development and pose risk for obesity.
Involuntary exposure to sugar can also continue beyond pregnancy and lactation. Infant formula and baby foods often contain added sugar and many children are exposed to sugary drinks from infancy. One study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which followed the diets of 1189 infants over six years, showed that those who were given sugary drinks just three times a week at 10-12 months of age had twice the risk of becoming obese.