2 October, 2023

Trick or Treat: The Correlation of Childhood Diabetes and Sugar Addiction

Everyone knows that Halloween is right around the corner as October swoops in. For parents and other adults, it is a time to let their creativity fly as their children beg to be their favourite characters. However, for kids, it means candies left and right, after a day of trick or treating.

Coincidentally, November is also declared as the “National Diabetes Month.” This 2020, the focus centres on the youth who have diabetes, a very timely topic now that Halloween has passed. Why are kids so motivated to go after these sugary sweets? And what happens when they develop an addiction to it?

Children and Candies

Although the origin of the current Halloween customs may be traced as far back to thousands of years ago when the Celts introduced the holiday then known as “Samhain”, it wasn’t until the 1960s when candy became intricately linked with the tradition now known as “trick or treat”. Each year, thousands of children flock from door to door wearing fun costumes so that they can acquire their most precious reward.

Childhood Diabetes

However, there remains a general lack of consensus on what exactly distinguishes candy from other food groups. Studies have shown that children consistently identify packaged food with high sugar and fat content as “candies”, which include solid chocolates, lollipops, liquorice, gummies, and taffy. With time, children have become increasingly motivated to consume such food, giving rise to a progressively popular theory known as sugar addiction.

Sugar Addiction and Why It’s Harmful

There is a rising notion that highly processed foods rich in sugar and fat are most likely to be addictive. It is based on the “Food Addiction Model” which postulates that excessive consumption of palatable foods may be understood within the same neural framework as substance addiction. 

The addictive potential of sugar lies in its high glycemic load and rapid rate of absorption. Additionally, it is hypothesized in animal experiments that intermittent consumption of sugary foods leads to the activation of dopaminergic pathways, similar to that in drug abuse.

Currently, no concrete evidence nor definite criteria exist to determine such condition; it remains to be a powerful theory that could explain why children desire to consume candy.

Sweet Road to Diabetes

Studies have proven that the high intake of artificial sweeteners is a significant contributor to the rise in prevalence of obesity worldwide. Moreover, studies have shown that sweeteners may also increase the risk of developing diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease by increasing the dietary glycemic load and thereby enhancing downward events such as inflammation, insulin resistance, and impaired beta-cell function. 

Although many processes can lead to the development of diabetes, most children and adolescents have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM). 

Childhood Diabetes

Type 1 DM commonly results from progressive and chronic destruction of pancreatic B-cells, which usually occurs in the background of an auto-immune process and leads to a deficiency of insulin secretion. The disease occurs in individuals who may be genetically predisposed or those who have a family history of this illness. A subtype of type 1 DM can happen in a minority of cases in which no known aetiology can be identified.

Meanwhile, type 2 DM in children occurs in those with normal insulin secretion, but with some degree of insulin resistance. Although genetics plays a vital role in the acquisition of type 2 DM, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle have been determined to be the most critical factors for its occurrence in the youth.

Children had always been thought to have type 1 DM (absolute deficiency of insulin secretion), until recently, when an alarming increase in the prevalence of type 2 DM had been observed in pediatric clinics worldwide. It has been attributed to the rising incidence of obesity, which also reflects the growing consumption of sugary foods and beverages.

If the trend continues, projections show that type 2 DM is poised to become the predominant form of diabetes mellitus in children and young adults.

Call To Action: Prevention

The occurrence of type 2 DM in children and adolescents may be prevented by modifying an individual’s nutrition and lifestyle. Studies have shown that reducing one’s weight, decreasing the intake of high-fat and sugary foods, and increasing physical activity can reduce the incidence of diabetes.

Specifically for children, whose population has been shown to have an increasing trend for the development of obesity and type 2 DM, perhaps one focus of concern would be to decrease their consumption of candies and sugary foods and hopefully curb the alarming progression of “sugar addiction”.

In celebration of this year’s National Diabetes Month, let us be reminded that this disease may also affect our children and that the formation of healthy habits early in their formative years will indeed have a significant impact in maintaining wellness into adulthood.


History.com Editors. How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition. HISTORY. Published October 3, 2019. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/halloween-trick-or-treating-origins

‌Adams, E. L., & Savage, J. S. (2017). From the children’s perspective: What are candy, snacks, and meals? Appetite, 116, 215–222. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.04.034 

Westwater ML, Fletcher PC, Ziauddeen H. Sugar addiction: the state of the science. European Journal of Nutrition. 2016;55(S2):55-69. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6

‌Sci-Hub | Artificial Sweetener Use Among Children: Epidemiology, Recommendations, Metabolic Outcomes, and Future Directions. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 58(6), 1467–1480 | 10.1016/j.pcl.2011.09.007. Sci-hub.st. Published 2011. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://sci-hub.st/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3220878/

‌Botero, D., & Wolfsdorf, J. I. (2005). Diabetes Mellitus in Children and Adolescents. Archives of Medical Research, 36(3), 281–290.

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