The average adolescent consumes the equivalent of 28 teaspoons or nearly 500 calories worth of added sugars each day. Could all this sugar be increasing their risk for heart disease later in life?
The American Heart Association defines added sugars as any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. Sugar, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup are some of the most commonly used added sugars.
Teens who consumed 30% or more of their daily calories from added sugars had 9 percent higher LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels and 10 percent higher levels of triglycerides than those who consumed less than 10% of total calories from added sugars.
Researchers at Emory University used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to study the sugar intake of 2,157 teens ages 12 to 18. The average sugar intake was 21.4 percent of the calories consumed in one day — three to five times higher than the acceptable limit set by the American Heart Association.
In addition to these findings, the researchers also found that the teens who consumed the most added sugars showed signs of insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to diabetes and its risk of heart disease.
"Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and sodas are the major contributor of added sugar and are a major source of calories without other important nutrients," said Jean Walsh, lead researcher for the study. "Nearly a third of kids in this country are overweight or obese," she said. "We don’t yet know what this will mean for cardiovascular risk, but it is probably a safe bet that we are going to see younger and younger people with heart disease."
In 1986 the Sugars Task Force of the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that there was no association between the consumption of sugar and heart disease. At that time consumption of added sugars among teens was estimated at 62 to 84 grams per day. Studies conducted since then have provided more evidence linking the high consumption of added sugars with heart disease, and the consumption of added sugars has risen greatly since that report. In the current study, teens consumed 119 grams per day.
While the current research opens the door for further study and discussion regarding the role added sugars may play in the risk for heart disease, long-term studies are needed to actually prove there is a link.