99% of Toddlers Consume Too Much Added Sugar

Dentistry Today


Children in the United States begin consuming added sugar at a very young age and many toddlers’ sugar intake exceeds the maximum amount recommended for adults, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the CDC, 99% of a representative sample of children between 19 and 23 months consumed an average of just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar on a given day—more than what’s in a Snickers bar. Also, 60% of children consume added sugar before they are a year old.

The CDC notes that added sugar consumption is linked with dental caries as well as obesity, asthma, and risk factors for heart disease. Foods with added sugar also can influence a child’s food preferences, potentially leading to less healthy food choices later in life, the CDC says. 

“This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years old,” said lead author Kirsten Herrick, a nutritional epidemiologist at the CDC, who presented the study’s results at Nutrition 2018 on Sunday in Boston.

“Our results show that added sugar consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations. These data may be relevant to the upcoming 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Herrick said. 

There is no chemical difference between sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and milk and sugars added to food products during processing or preparation. The body metabolizes natural and added sugars the same way.

But added sugars displays nutritional components of foods and contribute significantly to caloric intake. Foods with added sugars often aren’t accompanied by the other nutritional benefits derived from foods that naturally contain sugar, such as fiber and vitamins.

“The easiest way to reduce added sugars in your own diet and your kids’ diet is to choose foods that you know don’t have them, like fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Herrick.

Herrick analyzed data from more than 800 infants and toddlers between 6 and 23 months old who participated in the 2011-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a study that’s representative of the American population.

Parents recorded every item their child consumed in a 24-hour period. To assess added sugar, the researchers counted any calorie-containing sugars added to a food item. It did not include artificial zero-calorie sweeteners or the natural sugars in fruits, vegetables, and milk.

On a given day, 85% of infants and toddlers consumed added sugar, and consumption rose with age. At 6 to 11 months, just of 60% of babies consumed average sugar on a given day, averaging just under 1 teaspoon.

Among toddlers between the ages of 12 and 18 months, 98% consumed added sugar, averaging 5.5 teaspoons. By 19 to 23 months, 99% of children consumed an average of just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar on a given day.

The federal 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) does not include guidelines specific for children under the age of 2 years, though the 2020-2025 edition will include recommendations for infants and toddlers.

Daily recommended limits for added sugar are 6 teaspoons or less per day for children age 2 to 19 years and for adult women and 9 teaspoons or less per day for adult men. Previous research suggests most Americans exceed those limits.

“Once kids start eating table food, they’re often eating the same types of foods that Mom and Dad have in their diet, and other research has demonstrated that adults exceed recommended for added sugar too,” said Herrick.

The study does not indicate which types of food contributed to children’s added sugar intake, though the researchers plan to examine sources of added future in the future. Ready to eat cereals, bakery items and other desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, yogurt, and candy have been cited as significant sources of added sugar in children’s diets. 

Among children aged 12 to 23 months, added sugar consumption was highest among non-Hispanic black children and lowest among non-Hispanic white children. There were no differences in added sugar consumption by race among infants 6 to 11 months.

The team plans to further investigate the data, including examining trends over time. Other studies have suggested that added sugar consumption among American children has declined over the years.

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