Kids and Sugar

When you’re a child, life should be sweet. Unfortunately, life may be too sweet for today’s children. Children and teens should consume less than 6 teaspoons (about 1 ounce) of “added sugars” a day and drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages a week, according to a recent AHA scientific statement about children (ages 2–18).

Some foods and drinks contain sugar naturally, but added sugars — which go by many names and find their way into many products — are introduced during processing or preparation. A typical 12-oz. soda has between 10 and 13 teaspoons of added sugar. That means one soft drink is more than a day’s ration of added sugar.

According to the scientific statement, the typical American child eats about triple the recommended amount of added sugars, half from food and half from drinks. Children younger than 2 shouldn’t have any added sugars, but instead have nutrition-packed diets for growing healthy brains and bodies.

How much sugar is too much for my child?

Diets high in added sugars have been connected to heart risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Families can begin training their children’s taste buds early, said Rachel Johnson, a former chair of the AHA’s Nutrition Committee who served on the panel that wrote the scientific statement.

“Children are developing eating habits and taste preferences that will last a lifetime,” said Johnson, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “The sooner families begin to limit the amount of added sugars in their diets, the better.”

Added sugars have many names on food labels — high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice and more. Added sugar isn’t just present in cakes and cookies, it can show up in a wide variety of foods such as Chinese chicken salad, barbecue sauce, hamburger buns and salad dressings.

“There is consistent evidence that cardiovascular risk increases as added sugars consumption increases,” the statement says.

Beginning July 2018, the Food and Drug Administration will require manufacturers to show on food labels not just all sugars, but also those that were added.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, said sugar itself — and not just the calories it represents in a diet — is the culprit in numerous health problems.

A study authored by Lustig showed that restricting added sugars improved heart disease and diabetes markers for a group of obese children, even when calories were held constant, in just nine days. The kids ate a diet where sugar was substituted with starch instead, but still saw immediate reductions in their blood pressure, and improvement in their blood sugar and cholesterol levels.


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