High Sugar Intake & Our Kids

High sugar intake children
by Dawn Thorpe Jarvis, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., Garden of Life® Senior Director of Nutrition Science & Educational Content

What child doesn’t love sugary foods and drinks? More importantly, we adults use sugary treats such as cookies, cakes, ice cream and candy as rewards for children. Sadly, today’s families are super busy and kids consume these highly-processed, sugary products as part of their daily diet due to their convenience and availability.

In the United States, kids between the ages of 2 and 18 years typically take in two-to-three times the amount of sugar recommended by the latest health guidelines. Young children are consuming about 13 teaspoons, on average, of added sugar a day and teens are consuming up to 22 teaspoons on average per day. Yes, please read that again! This recent data comes from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on the diets of American children, and may even be on the low side, because people in dietary studies tend to under-report their actual intake.

Sugar is everywhere and in so many forms. In fact “sugar” can appear on nutrition labels with over 50 different names depending of the type sugar and how it is processed. You really need to be vigilant when reading food labels. Apart from the ingredient list (which is usually eye-opening for most processed foods) you need to look at the actual grams of sugar per serving.  Also, be sure to read how many servings are in the packet—you will need to multiply the grams by the number of servings to know what your child is eating.

Modern food processing has led to the widespread addition of highly refined sugar to almost all convenience and processed foods. There seems to be sugar lurking everywhere—even in foods that you would not expect—and often in fairly large amounts. Even healthy foods can be laced with sugar. You only have to read yogurt labels or pasta sauce, to see that most are loaded with several spoonfuls of sugar!

Medical experts have linked high sugar intake with children and teen’s risk for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Previously, the federal government's 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that children get no more than 10 percent of their total calories per day from added sugar which is difficult for most parents to calculate.

In the first of three new recommendations published in August 2016 from the American Heart Association (AHA), a panel of health and nutrition experts suggested that children ages 2 to 18 consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. This amount of sugar is equal to about 100 calories, or 25 grams (0.9 ounces) of sugar.

The second recommendation from the AHA scientific report advised that children under age 2 have no added sugar in their diets. The panel of experts stated that introducing added sugars in the diets of infants and toddlers may encourage them to develop a preference for sweets from an early age.

The third AHA recommendation called for children and teens to limit the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages they drink to no more than one 8-ounce (240 milliliters) beverage a week. Sugar-sweetened beverages include sodas, sports and energy drinks, sweetened teas, and fruit-based sweetened drinks.

To help children and teens meet these new recommendations, a great first step for parents is to stop buying foods and drinks that are high in sugar—read labels. Switch to natural fresh foods and healthy snacks like organic fruits, vegetables and nuts. Drink more water or water infused with slices of fresh fruit. Give rewards and treats that are not food related and try to get more physical exercise to burn off the natural sugars they consume from fruits and natural sources of sugar. This goes for the whole family—being a role model for your children is very important.
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