Should we treat children who love sugar like they’re smokers?

The key to keeping kids off sugar may be turning sugary drinks into cigarettes and tobacco. Not literally, though.

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  • One easy way to wean children off sugar is to pretend they're smokers.

  • That's according to a new study that found parents were less interested in buying their children sugary drinks when they saw warning labels — which looked like ones often seen on cartons of cigarettes — on the drink's container.

  • In the study, 60 percent of parents who saw health warning labels on the drinks chose not to buy them, whereas only 40 percent of parents avoided buying drinks without labels, The Express reported. Parents were least likely to buy drinks that had "labels that warned of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay," The Express reported.

  • Overall, 75 percent of people support warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverage containers.

  • "We were surprised that the warning labels had as big an impact as they did," lead researcher Christina Roberto told NPR. "I think the study shows us that calorie labels aren't terribly effective, and warning labels might have a bigger impact."

  • So far, California, New York and the city of Baltimore have suggested legislation that would require these labels. But it may be awhile before sugary drinks become cigarette packs, since those legislative campaigns have been met with heavy opposition.

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  • This study isn't entirely surprising since sugary drinks have been compared to smoking and cigarettes in the past. A study from 2014 found that sugary soda makes people age faster, almost as fast as cigarette smokers, CNN reported. These sweetened drinks often age white blood cells in the body, making people age faster and putting them "at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke," CNN reported.

  • The study, which controlled for obesity, found that 1 in 5 adults who admitted to drinking sugary drinks would age faster by 4.6 years, CNN reported.

  • But not all researchers agree that sugar is as dangerous as smoking. Some say it's worse. Former health secretary Andrew Lansley told The Guardian that sugar can be worse than smoking since it is something people consume without their knowledge, as some sugars are hidden in foods. And because sugar is a part of food, it makes people more vulnerable to its dangers than cigarettes.

  • "Tobacco isn't added into processed food. It's not being consumed by the overall mass of the population, so one could argue (sugar) is more of (the) issue," Lansley told The Guardian.

  • Lansley said that reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks children consume wouldn't help curb obesity issues, since sugar can be a vital part of nutrition, especially when found naturally in fruits and vegetables. And people are so used to eating sugar that they wouldn't accept the loss of it.

  • "You can't simply slash the sugar in food otherwise people simply won't accept it," Lansley told The Guardian. "That is what they are looking for. I don't think it is helped by what I think are inaccurate analogies. I just don't think the analogy between sugar and tobacco is an appropriate one. I think we have to understand that sugar is an essential component of food. It's just that sugar in excess is an inappropriate and unhelpful diet."

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  • Warning labels appear to be the new way to help children and families stay away from sugar, but it may not be enough.

  • "Obesity is a combination of several factors such as lifestyle, psychological, diet and activity that are contributing to the children's growing waistlines. We need to create healthy environments and healthy food choices for adults and children," Haleh Moravej, senior lecturer of Nutritional Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University, told The Express. "Maybe we could think of creative tactics rather than scare tactics. We could be marking the sugar calories and how long it takes to burn them in a creative clear visible place and in that way change can be more meaningful and long lasting as well as educational."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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