Average added sugar calories per day in American adults and children, 1977-2012. Graphic: Vox

By Annabelle Timsit
11 June 2018

(Quartz) – 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.

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.

But the earlier sugar intake begins, the harder the habit becomes to kick later in life. [more]

American toddlers are eating more sugar than the maximum amount recommended for adults


ABSTRACT: Added sugar consumption is associated with detrimental health conditions, such as dental caries, asthma, obesity, altered lipid profiles, and elevated blood pressure in older children. The American Heart Association recommends that children under 2 years avoid added sugar consumption.

Objectives: To provide national estimates of added sugar consumption among infants 6-23 months.

Methods: Using a single 24 hour recall from NHANES 2011-2014, we estimated the prevalence and mean consumption of added sugars (tsp), by age, sex, poverty index ratio (PIR), and race and Hispanic origin, among infants and toddlers aged 6-23 months (n=806). We used SUDAAN to conduct all analyses and we evaluated differences between groups using a t statistic and tests of trend across ordinal variables using orthogonal contrast matrices.

Results: More than 8 in 10 infants and toddlers aged 6-23 months (85% (Standard Error (SE) 1.5) reported any consumption of added sugar on a given day. Among infants 6-11 months, 61% (SE 3.2) consumed added sugars, and nearly all toddlers 12-18 months (98% SE .65) and 19-23 months (99%, SE 1.0) consumed added sugars. Mean added sugar consumption was 4.2 tsp (SE 0.26) for those 6-23 months. Consumption increased significantly by quadratic trend by age, from 0.9 tsp (SE 0.12) among infants 6-11 months, 5.5 tsp (SE 0.36) among toddlers 12-18 months and 7.1 tsp (SE 0.55) among toddlers 19-23 months. Among all infants and toddlers (6-23 months), non-Hispanic whites consumed fewer teaspoons of added sugar, 3.8 tsp (SE 0.33), compared to non-Hispanic blacks, 5.4 tsp (SE 0.62).  We observed a similar pattern among toddlers 12-18 and 19-23 months, but not among infants 6-11 months. There were no significant differences by sex or PIR for any age group.

Conclusions: Added sugar consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations.

OR12-08 - Consumption of added sugars among U.S. infants aged 6-23 months, 2011-2014

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