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Sugar Intake in Adolescence Linked to Future Risk of Tumors

Sugar Intake in Adolescence Linked to Future Risk of Tumors

This is part of our “In Medical News” series where Dr. Sara Laudani shares a study or article in recent news and offers some analysis and tips about the news, to help patients stay informed.


A recent study revealed a link between high intake of simple sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in adolescence and increased risk of conventional colorectal adenoma (benign glandular tumors of the colon and the rectum, which may become cancerous).

Research has been shifting to look more at interventions over the life course, instead of just focusing on later-life interventions when the disease has already developed. However, much of the research on diet and lifestyle’s role in cancer has focused on mid to late adulthood. As this study shows and Dr. Kana Wu of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health noted: “Exposures during childhood and adolescence are likely critical for cancers because of the long subsequent lifetime at risk and enhanced susceptibility.”

In the U.S. (and many other countries taking on similar diets), adolescents have the highest added sugar intake and worst diet. This study revealed that high sugar and SSB intake during adolescence was positively associated with risk of adenoma, after adjustment for numerous variables such as family history, BMI, smoking and alcohol use, physical activity, and current diet. In contrast to adolescent intake, sugar and SSB intake during adulthood were not associated with adenoma risk.

Many of the doctors commenting on the findings were not surprised. In their practices, they see more young patients and the screening age has been lowered accordingly. This study may not drastically change what most physicians recommend, as they already tell families to avoid these beverages during childhood. However, it does provide more evidence for them in convincing patients of how important this is.

Dr. Bryan Curtin, Director of The Center for Neurogastroenterology and GI Motility at Mercy, commented: “The ‘western diet’ is proving to be quite unhealthy for us as a population and this presents a unique challenge, especially for our youth and adolescents moving forward.”

What Does This Mean for You? Health Tips

This is just further evidence about the potential health impacts of poor dietary choices for children and adolescents. However, it can be tough to keep kids away from unhealthy foods when surrounded by them. Of course, I recommend that children and adolescents stay away from sugary beverages and sodas, while acknowledging the challenges for parents. Here are some tips to help support a healthy diet for young people:

  • Lead by example: parents are the most important influencers of their children. In the first place, be a healthy role model. Make wise food choices and explain them to children; they will grow up “equipped” to face the pressure from the food industry.
  • Go food shopping together. Expose kids to a variety of foods from an early age.
  • Plan ahead for snacks and drinks. Bring healthy snacks on outings, always have a water bottle with you. Otherwise, it’s too tempting to grab a sugary drink, fast food, or convenience store food.
  • Don’t keep sugary beverages and junk food in the home.
  • Offer the same food for everyone in the family. Do not make (or stop making) different dishes to please the children. That isn’t loving!
  • Reward with attention, not food. Show your love and comfort with hugs and kisses. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards. That isn’t loving!
  • No replacements: when meals are not eaten, kids do not need “extras”, such as candy or cookies, as replacement foods. That isn’t loving!

Dr. Sara Laudani offers consultations in internal medicine and functional and nutritional medicine in our Hongmei Road Clinic – Hongqiao. Click here to schedule an appointment with her and find out how her holistic approach and protocols can help you resolve your health issues.