Imagine feeding your young child a candy bar every day. Unthinkable, right? But researchers have found that many American toddlers are consuming that much-added sugar each day, plus some.
A new study revealed that 99 percent of American toddlers, ages 19 to 23 months, consume over seven teaspoons of added sugar per day on average. The researchers also found that 60 percent of babies under one year have consumed added sugar, whether in the form of cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or honey.
“This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years old,” says Kirsten Herrick, the lead author for the study and a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This information will be instrumental in creating new dietary guidelines for babies and toddlers, which will be included in the 2020-2025 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGA helps inform government and health professionals on federal food, health, and nutrition policies and programs.
Currently, there are no dietary recommendations for children under the age of two. Existing guidelines for children ages 2-19 limits added sugar consumption to six teaspoons per day or less, but most toddlers 19-23 months are eating more than seven teaspoons per day. In other words, they are consuming more than the recommended amount of sugar for even their older siblings.
The researchers also found that children ages 12-18 months consume 5.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and babies between 6-11 months eat less than one teaspoon per day on average.
Herrick used data on 800 infants and toddlers between 6-23 months old. The researchers asked parents to report what their child ate within a 24-hour period, and then they counted the amounted of sugar added to a food item, if it contained cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or honey. They did not count zero-calorie artificial sweeteners or sugars occurring naturally, such as in fruits, vegetables, and milk.
While there is no chemical difference between added sugars and natural sugars when the body metabolizes them, foods with added sugars do not usually have nutritional benefits that come with natural foods. For example, an apple is naturally sweet but also contains fiber and vitamins.
Herrick believes that the problem may stem from parents’ eating habits. “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,” she says.
The health risks of added sugar include obesity, asthma, dental cavities, as well as heart-related illnesses, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Plus, introducing large amounts of sugar in a child’s diet early on could negatively influence his or her food preferences for years to come, the researchers warn.
The added sugar in children’s diets typically comes from ready-to-eat cereals, bakery items and other desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, yogurt, and candy. For those who are checking the food labels at home, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals four grams of sugar.
But the easiest way to control the added sugar your family is eating is to eat simply. “Choose foods that you know don’t have them, like fresh fruits and vegetables,” recommends Herrick.