Parents: if the 1970s cult film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t inspiration enough for controlling children’s sugar intake, a recent study touted by the American Heart Association is.

The study, which originally appeared in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, linked added sugars—such as sugar sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, candy, ready-to-eat cereals and more—to a higher likelihood of death by heart disease.

Virginia Tech researcher Brenda Davy has long looked at the effects of high-sugar diets, especially the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.  For a new study, she will test adolescents’ ability to report how much sugar they consume by comparing dietary questionnaire responses with a novel biomarker of dietary sugar intake, delta 13C in the blood.

“It’s often hard to accurately measure the amount and types of sugar that study participants consume, especially children, because we rely on their  memory and their ability to accurately estimate quantities,” Davy said. “In nutrition research, we are aware that this is a major challenge when studying the health effects of dietary intake in children. Biomarkers can provide more accurate and objective assessments of dietary habits, so we hope to receive additional funding from NIH to support this project. Another exciting aspect of this project is that it involves collaboration with a faculty member in Hawaii, Dr. Hope Jahren, who is an expert in geochemistry and geophysics”.

Davy and graduate student Shaun Riebl, a registered dietitian and Ph.D. candidate in the department of human nutrition, foods, and exercise, are looking for 75-100 local participants between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a 2-3 week long study.  During this time, respondents will visit Virginia Tech’s campus 4 or 5 times; two visits will involve providing a routine fingerstick blood sample.

The goal is to have 100 respondents by the end of July, according to Riebl.

“Our work does not seek to make sugar another one of the ‘bad guys’ like many nutrients have become. A problem can come about when too much sugar is eaten,” Riebl said. “Our hopes are to provide another piece to the complicated nutrition puzzle helping concerned parents identify potential unhealthy habits in their child’s diet choices so changes can be made before a visit to a doctor is necessary. We want children and their parents to feel good and be healthy today and in years to come.”

New River Valley parents can register their children online, and contact Riebl with additional questions.