Nearly all American toddlers and about two-thirds of infants consume added sugar, despite nutritionists’ recommendations that children avoid the sweetener, according to a government study released this week.
Researchers, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that from 2011 to 2016, 98% of toddlers ages 12-23 months consumed added sugar in fruit drinks, baked goods, candy and ready-to-eat cereals. Black toddlers ate the most added sugar — about 8 teaspoons a day — while toddlers of Asian descent consumed the least, about 3.7 teaspoons a day.
“The most important thing to take away is that added sugars are everywhere,” said the study’s lead investigator, Kirsten Herrick, who now works at the National Cancer Institute’s cancer control and population sciences division. “What is surprising is how added sugar quickly exceeds the recommended daily amounts.”
The researchers also found that about 60% of infants up to 11 months old consumed added sugar in yogurt, baby snacks and flavored milk, among other foods — about 1 teaspoon of sugar per day. The study size was too small to make scientific conclusions about race, Herrick said. The findings were published today in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Added sugars include any sweetener, including cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, that does not occur naturally in food. The American Heart Association advises that toddlers and infants completely avoid sugar-sweetened drinks. Other studies, Herrick said, suggest that older children limit sugar to 6 teaspoons per day.
In 2016, the American Cancer Society released dietary guidelines that said adults should limit added sugar to 10% of their daily calories. In particular, it suggested people reduce the number of sugar-sweetened drinks, including fruit and sports drinks, they consume. Sugar is associated not only with weight gain, but also with many types of cancer, the society said.
Herrick said the consumption of sugar in teenagers and older children has been linked to cavities, asthma, obesity and high blood pressure. Amid news of the alarming amount of sugar consumption, though, she said researchers also observed that sugar consumption in infants was declining overall.
Herrick warned that exposing children to sugary foods when they are young could affect taste preferences when they are older.
“There is no reason to provide sugar-sweetened beverages” to toddlers and infants, she said. “They need nutrient-dense foods.”