Some sugars occur naturally in fruits and milk products. However, other sugars are added to foods and drinks during preparation, processing, or at your table. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald)

Some sugars occur naturally in fruits and milk products. However, other sugars are added to foods and drinks during preparation, processing, or at your table. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald)

Exceeding the daily allowance of added sugars is bad for your health — and this can pose even worse consequences for children. According to a recent study, most American toddlers consume copious amounts of added sugars, exceeding the maximum recommended amount for adults.

“This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years old,” said lead study author Kirsten Herrick, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Our results show that added sugar consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations. These data may be relevant to the upcoming 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Added sugar — the kind that is not naturally occurring, such as that found in fruits or milk — is one of the world’s biggest health risks. Almost all processed foods have added sugar in them, and it’s this pervasive nature that makes it extremely easy for people to exceed the moderate threshold.

Dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10% per day, but most Americans exceed this limit greatly. This is a problem because studies have associated sugar consumption to weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular disease (the number one cause of death worldwide), acne, diabetes, cancer, depression, kidney disease, negatively impacts oral health, and accelerates aging.

Americans are increasingly consuming more added sugars in their diet. Today, the average American adult consumes 152 pounds (68kg) of sugar per year, up from 123 pounds (55kg) in 1970. And according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this trend is set to continue as younger generations become accustomed to excessive amounts of sugar from a very young age.

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The team of researchers examined data collected from a nationally representative sample of over 800 infants aged 6 to 23 months old who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2011 and 2014. The children’s parents were supposed to document every food item the kids ingested during a 24-hour period, based on which the researchers calculated the mean sugar intake.

The study concluded that toddlers 12 to 18 months old consumer 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per day, while older toddlers aged 19 to 23 months consumed 7.1 teaspoons. To put things into perspective, this is close or, in some cases, more than the recommended amount of daily sugar intake by the American Heart Association (AHA). According to AHA’s guidelines, adult women shouldn’t consume more than 6 teaspoons of sugar and men should limit intake to nine teaspoons per day.

AHA: Limit children’s sugar consumption

The AHA recommends parents watch food labels for added sugar in the form of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, honey, lactose, and sucrose. In July 2018, they will be able to see added sugar amounts listed on the labels.

Among children aged 12-23 months, the researchers found that added sugar consumption was highest among non-Hispanic black children and lowest among non-Hispanic white children. There were no differences in added sugar consumption by race among infants 6-11 months.

“Once kids start eating table food, they’re often eating the same types of foods that Mom and Dad have in their diet, and other research has demonstrated that adults exceed recommendations for added sugar too,” said Herrick.

The findings are worrisome because sugar is addictive and the earlier you start eating lots of it, the harder it is to kick the habit later in life. Researchers recommend that parents monitor the added sugar intake of their children and take steps to ensure their diets are healthy with minimum added sugar before they turn two.  The primary source of added sugar in Americans’ diet are sweetened beverages, accounting for 47% of all added sugars consumed by Americans. Researchers say that cutting on sugary drinks should be the first thing that parents turn to in order to have the biggest impact on their children’s health.

“The easiest way to reduce added sugars in your own diet and your kids’ diet is to choose foods that you know don’t have them, like fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Herrick.

The findings were presented at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting during Nutrition 2018, held June 9-12, 2018 in Boston.