New guidelines recommend no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and one sugared drink a week for children and teens

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Children and teens should consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars a day and drink no more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage per week, according to new advice from the American Heart Association.

“The typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars,” Dr. Miriam Vos, lead author, nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said in a news release. “[And] are currently drinking their age in sugary drink servings each and every week.”

The average American child takes in about 80 grams of added sugar daily — half from food and half from beverages, according to the AHA’s analysis of the most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The 2015 KentuckyYouth Risk Behavior Survey found that almost one-third of Kentucky’s high school students drank a sugared soda one or more times per day during the seven days before the survey; 23 percent had sugared soda two or more times a day; and 13 percent three or more times a day. Nearly 36 percent of Kentucky’s children are either overweight or obese, acccording to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

The AHA statement, based on a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effects of added sugar on children’s health, is published in its journal Circulation.

The statement also says children younger than 2 should have NO added sugar. They have lower calorie needs than older children, so there is little room for foods and drinks with added sugars that don’t provide “good nutrition,” AHA says.
Why is the heart association interested in this problem? Children who eat diets high in added sugar have increased risk factors for heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatty liver disease and unhealthy cholesterol levels, says the report.

Added sugars are any sugars or syrups that are added to foods during processing or preparation. The sugars in fruits, vegetables and other whole foods are natural sugars. One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams of added sugar.

The best way to avoid added sugars 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,” Vos says.

“A plain whole grain bagel with cream cheese can have no added sugar, while a frosted doughnut has 23 grams of added sugar,” she told Jacqueline Howard of CNN. “A bowl of cereal can range from 1 gram to 12 or more grams, depending on the brand. One soda typically has 33 grams. A healthy breakfast of a low added-sugar, whole-grain cereal with a piece of fruit and a glass of low-fat milk would have about 1 gram of added sugar [but] varies by the cereal.”

Starting in July 2018, food manufacturers will be required to list the amount of added sugars on nutrition labels.

The latest national U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines recommend limiting added-sugar intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories. For someone older than 3, that means eating no more than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams, of added sugar a day and 25 grams for children 1 through 3 years. The AHA guidelines cuts this amount in half for children.

That amount is “closely aligned with the new recommendations,” Vos told CNN. “The AHA statement provides a fixed amount, 25 grams, that is less than 10 percent of calories for most children and is easier for parents to understand.”

“I hope our recommendations help parents feel more confident limiting sugar. This statement helps answer the question how much is OK so parents can choose the right combination of foods and drinks so their children are healthier,” Voss told AHA News. “If parents know how much they are looking for, it will help the food industry satisfy that goal.”

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