KIDS
November 21, 2019

Sugar Goes Undercover

Babies and toddlers get way more sugar than most parents realize. Here's where it's all hiding and how to avoid most of it.

Whether parents realize it or not, most infants and nearly all toddlers get a lot of added sugars in their diets every day. The added sugars are also a considerable source of calories for their babies and toddlers.

Currently, the only health organization that offers guidance regarding sugar intake for children under the age of two is the American Heart Association (AHA). Its stance is that sugar should be avoided since babies and toddlers need nutrient rich foods for proper growth and development, and their food preferences are being formed at that time.

Learning to love sugar early in life can set a child up for years of problems with their weight and the possibility of chronic health issues.

The AHA guidelines suggest limiting sugar intake to six teaspoons per day for women and children between the ages of two and 19. They suggest men limit themselves to nine teaspoons. Other health organizations have similar guidelines for older children and adults.

In order to track the trends in infants' and toddlers' consumption of added sugars, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at information collected in the 2011-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) concerning the amount of sugar in the diets of just over 1,200 infants and toddlers. Their tally of sugar did not include the sugars present in breast milk and infant formula.

Babies ate about one teaspoon of added sugars every day or about two percent of their daily calories. Toddlers got almost eight percent of their daily calories from sugar, consuming about six teaspoons a day — the limit for children over two and adult women, according to the AHA guidelines.

Sugar intake was not affected by the gender of the child, family income or who was head-of-household, but some difference was found among race. Survey data showed that non-Hispanic black toddlers consumed nearly 8 teaspoons of added sugar a day; while Asian kids averaged 3.7 teaspoons, non-Hispanic whites 5.3 teaspoons and Hispanic toddlers 5.9 teaspoons.

Yogurt, baby snacks and sweets, and sweet bakery products were the main sugar source for most babies, while fruit drinks, sweet baked products and candy accounted for most of the sugar intake among toddlers.

“The transition from a milk-based diet (breast milk and formula) to table foods has an impact on nutrition, taste preference, and eating patterns,” Kirsten A. Herrick, lead researcher from the CDC, said in a statement. She suggests that parents have a discussion with their child’s healthcare provider regarding which solid foods to introduce while weaning them from breast or bottle.

Parents can use the Nutrition Facts Label as a resource to help them understand how much added sugar is in a food or beverage they are considering for their child, Herrick suggests. Many labels include this information, though it isn’t a mandatory requirement until January of 2020.

Learning to love sugar early in life can set a child up for years of problems with their weight and the possibility of chronic health issues. When sugar becomes a regular part of the diets of children, they are more likely to develop dental cavities, asthma, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and cholesterol, and obesity.

Do your littlest ones a favor. Just don’t even introduce them to sugar until they have had the opportunity to learn to enjoy the taste of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as unflavored milk and yogurt.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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