Toddlers Eat More Sugar Than Is Safe for Adults, Study Says

American toddlers consume just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar a day, the study shows. That's more than the amount in a Snickers bar.

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Sugar becomes a staple in the average American's diet before age 1, researchers have found. By the time babies become toddlers of 19 to 23 months, they're consuming a daily average of more than 7 teaspoons of added sugar—exceeding both the amount found in a Snickers bar and the daily recommended maximum for adults. 

Researchers looked at data from more than 800 infants and toddlers between 6 to 23 months old from the 2011-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which parents recorded everything their child ate during a 24-hour period. They found: 

  • 85 percent of the infants and toddlers consume added sugar each day.
  • About 60 percent of babies 6 to 11 months average just under 1 teaspoon of added sugar a day.
  • 98 percent of babies 12 to 18 months average 5.5 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
  • 99 percent of babies 19 to 23 months average more than 7 teaspoons of added sugar on a given day.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for adult women and children ages 2 to 19, and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for adult men, although past research suggests most Americans consume more.

"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). Researchers counted foods that contained cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, or other forms of sugar, but not natural sugars found in items like fruit, vegetables, and milk.

Diets high in added sugar have been linked to asthma, dental cavities, and obesity, as well as heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to the study's authors. Although there is no significant difference between sugars that occur naturally and those added to processed foods, researchers said added sugars are considered harmful because they are "often not accompanied by the other nutritional benefits one derives from eating foods that naturally contain sugar, such as the fiber and vitamins contained in an apple."

"The easiest way to reduce added sugars in your own diet and your kids' diet is to choose foods that you know don't have them, like fresh fruits and vegetables," said Herrick.

Herrick is set to present the research at the 2018 American Society for Nutrition meeting in Boston. She said the findings may affect the upcoming 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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