The intake of added sugar, which can be found in most processed foods, is a key issue health care providers need to be concerned about in patients, especially children who present with weight issues. “When it comes to diet-impacted issues, providers are going to see that weight is abnormal. That’s usually the trigger that it’s time to talk about what’s going on inside,” said Polfuss.

To help parents understand the impact of weight gain in children, providers should talk with families and use BMI charts to demonstrate trends in the child’s weight status. “When there is a weight concern, providers should express their concern about the child’s health — it’s not about fitting into a certain size or looks,” added Polfuss.

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Since weight is an important aspect of grwoth, it should be discussed at all well child visits, regardless of weight status, said Polfuss. “It should never be a surprise when a provider talks about weight.”

A family affair

When clinicians discuss weight with children and parents, there needs to be an emphasis on the role the entire family plays in making healthy diet choices. “When discussing children’s diet, the whole family should be involved,” suggested Polfuss.

Educating parents on the importance of reducing added sugar in children’s diets is crucial, but many families have already heard many of the dietary tips providers share with them. “Explaining the reasoning behind [reducing added sugar] may help parents understand it better,” explained Polfuss.

Clinicians should explain to parents how to recognize added sugars in ingredient lists; ideally, all foods should have five ingredients or less. “The general rule is that anything that ends in –ose is considered a sugar, and definitely not what you want to see in your top three to five ingredients.”

Polfuss warns that parents need to know that not all foods labeled as healthy or diet-friendly are healthy choices. Low-fat food items may make up reduced fat in added sugars. Parents should also be weary of sugar-sweetened beverages, as they are a high source of added sugar. “Cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the easiest options and would provide the biggest bang for your buck,” suggested Polfuss.

“The media makes it very difficult for the general public to understand what is in the food they are eating,” said Polfuss. “Providers have to encourage parents play detective and know what’s on the back of the label.”


  1. Polfuss M. #319. “The Great Sugar Debate.” Presented at: NAPNAP 2015. March 11-14, 2015; Las Vegas.