Children should consume less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day to prevent heart disease and promote better health, according to recommendations recently released by the American Heart Association.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this statement summarized the latest evidence on added sugars and children, and provided specific recommendations to promote better health. Experts looked at factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and obesity, all of which have an impact on heart health. After reviewing the latest evidence, authors have no doubts about the importance of limiting added sugars to improve children’s health.
Overall, experts found that the more added sugars children consumed, the more likely they were to develop health problems like obesity and high blood sugar. Added sugars, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, include any sugar like table sugar, fructose and honey that are included in processed or prepared foods, added to food or drinks at the table, or consumed on their own.
Based on all existing research, experts recommend that children ages 2–18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily—the equivalent to about 100 calories or 25 grams of added sugar. Experts also add that children under the age of 2 should not consume any food or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks. Research shows that by reducing added sugar consumption, children can help reduce their risk for health problems that contribute to heart disease. It also helps children develop healthier eating habits that can carry into adulthood.
The problem, however, is that most children are far from meeting these new guidelines. Based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted from 2009–2012, children ages 2–18 consumed an average of 80 grams of added sugars a day—an amount three times greater than recommended limits. Much of these added sugars come from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sports drinks.
“There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high—the typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars,” said Miriam Vos, MD, MsPH, lead author, nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
“Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” said Vos. “We believe the scientific evidence for our recommendations is strong and having a specific amount to target will significantly help parents and public health advocates provide the best nutrition possible for our children.”
According to Vos, “The best way to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet is to serve mostly foods that are high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, and to limit foods with little nutritional value.” Experts also recommend avoiding sugary beverages and sweet processed foods, which tend to have high sugar content and little nutritional value.