AHA Says Cap Added Sugars for Kids at 6 Teaspoons a Day

Marcia Frellick

August 24, 2016

Children should consume less than 25 g, or the equivalent of 6 tsp, of added sugars a day — far below current intake in the United States, according to the first scientific statement on the subject by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Currently, US children ages 2 to 19 years old consume more than three times that amount — about 80 g of added sugar daily — half from food and half from drinks, say the diet and nutrition experts who analyzed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2009–2012. And because intake amounts in the surveys were self-reported, the numbers likely even underestimate the problem, the authors of the statement say.

Added sugars include table sugar, fructose, and honey used in processing and preparing foods or drinks and sugars added to foods at the table or eaten separately.

Only 8 Oz of Sugary Drinks a Week, Guidelines Say

Miriam B Vos, MD, MsPH, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, and fellow committee members write in the statement published August 22 in Circulation: "Current evidence supports the associations of added sugars with increased energy intake, increased adiposity, increased central adiposity, and increased dyslipidemia."

They add that overweight children who continue to ingest more added sugars are also more likely to become insulin-resistant, a precursor for type 2 diabetes.

Beginning July 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require that food labels show not just all sugars but also those that were added.

"Until then, 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," Dr Vos said in a press statement.

In addition to limiting intake of table sugar, fructose, and honey, people should watch for labels for brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar, the AHA suggests.

One of the biggest sources of added sugars is sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soft drinks, sweet tea, and sports and energy drinks.

The AHA cautions that children and teens should have no more than 8 oz weekly of sugar-sweetened drinks. Parents should avoid all added sugar for children under the age of 2 years. Calorie requirements are only about 1000 a day for infants, so there is less room for added low-value sugars. Also, taste preferences start early in life, so limiting added sugars may help develop healthy eating habits.

"Children should not drink more than one 8-oz sugar-sweetened drink a week, yet they are currently drinking their age in sugary drink servings each and every week," Dr Vos commented.

As to whether using artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose may be a good solution, the authors point to a dearth of research in that area for both child and adult populations and therefore could not offer a recommendation.

Further research is also needed into the genetic component of bodies' response to sugar and how the interaction between the microbiome and added sugars and consequently CVD risk varies among individuals, the authors suggest.

The AHA guidelines align with the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration recommendations that added sugars should make up less than 10% of calories.

Dr Vos has no relevant financial relationships. Disclosures for the coauthors are listed in the article.

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Circulation. Published online August 22, 2016. Abstract

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