NEW SUGAR HIGHS
We’ve long known that processed sugar is bad for kids. And yet new data presented this week (June 10) at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting show that American infants are consuming excessive amounts of added sugar in their diets, much more than the amounts currently recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) and other medical organizations.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at added sugar consumption—sugars in your diet that are not naturally occurring, like those found in fruit and milk, but rather added into foods during preparation or processing. Researchers used data collected from a nationally representative sample of more than 800 kids between six and 23 months old who participated in the 2011 to 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Parents were asked to record every item their child ate or drank during a 24-hour period, and the researchers calculated a mean sugar intake based on these testimonies.
The study found that toddlers 12 to 18 months consumed 5.5 teaspoons per day, and that toddlers 19 to 23 months consumed 7.1 teaspoons. This is close to, or more than, the amount of sugar recommended by AHA for adult women (six teaspoons) and men (nine teaspoons). Parents of more than 80% of kids aged six to 23 months reported their children consumed at least some added sugar on a given day.
This tracks (pdf) with an increase in US sugar intake broadly: In 1970, Americans ate 123 pounds of sugar per year, and today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar per year.
Why is sugar especially bad for kids under two?
Sugar can affect our health at multiple stages in our development. Too much sugar during pregnancy adversely impacts child cognition, while excess sugar intake during adolescence has been associated with weight gain and cardiac risks, which include an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure. Recent studies have also shown that excess sugar depresses the body’s immunity, making kids more vulnerable to diseases and infections.