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High sugar intake; pervasive problem at all ages

Americans’ addiction to sugary foods and beverages begins at a very young age –  and includes virtually every child, according to a new study. Research presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting in June found that 99 percent of toddlers between the ages of 19 and 23 months consume an average of 7 teaspoons of added sugar every day, and that 60 percent of kids under the age of 1 already are consuming added sugar on a daily basis. 

Although the U.S. government’s current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, set to be updated in 2020, do not include specific recommendations for children under age 2, their recommended limits for added sugar are 6 teaspoons or less per day for children ages 2 through 19 and for adult women, and 9 teaspoons or less per day for adult men. 

“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]. “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.” 

Although there is no chemical difference between sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables and other whole foods and sugars that are added to food products during processing or preparation, those added sugars are considered more damaging to health.  They often add calories without the nutritional benefits of foods containing natural sugar, such as the fiber and vitamins in an apple.  

Overeating sugary foods early on can influence a child’s food preferences, leading to less-healthy food choices later in life. Over the long term, consuming high amounts of added sugar goes hand-in-hand with obesity, asthma and dental cavities, as well as risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

In the current study, Herrick’s team analyzed data from more than 800 infants and toddlers between the ages of 6 and 23 months who participated in the 2011-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES]. To measure added sugar, researchers counted any calorie-containing sugars added to a food item, including cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and other forms of sugar. They did not include artificial zero-calorie sweeteners or naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk. Although the study did not detail the specific foods that contributed most heavily to children’s added sugar intake, other research has identified breakfast cereals, baked goods and other desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, yogurt and candy as frequent sources of added sugar in children’s diets.

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