The Grapevine

US Infants Eating More Added Sugar Than Adult Limits Before 2nd Birthday

Consumption of added sugar among Americans has been a widely discussed subject. But how young are most children when the habit starts?

A majority of children begin consuming added sugar even before their first birthday, suggest researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The research titled “Consumption of added sugars among U.S. infants aged 6-23 months, 2011-2014” was presented at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting in Boston on June 10.

How is added sugar different from natural sugar?

As their names suggest, the former is added to foods as they are processed or prepared while the latter is found naturally in sources like fruits, vegetables, and milk. However, the human body metabolizes added and natural sugar in the same way.

What makes added sugar different is their quality of being high-calorie sweeteners, which do not carry other nutritional components (such as fiber or protein) often found in naturally occurring sugar sources. 

From run-of-the-mill granulated white sugar to high fructose corn syrup, dietitian Dana Angelo White explained how “these sweeteners are a pure source of carbohydrate and have about 15 calories per teaspoon. When hefty doses of these types of added sugars are eaten, it can lead to weight gain and poorly controlled blood sugar levels.”

What were the findings of the new study?

Kirsten Herrick, a nutritional epidemiologist at the CDC, examined 24-hour food consumption patterns of a nationally representative sample including more than 800 infants and toddlers aged 6 to 23 months old.

“This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years old,” she said.

It was found 60 percent of children began consuming added sugar before their first birthday. By the time toddlers reached 19 to 23 months of age, they were averaging more than 7 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This exceeded the daily recommended limit (for added sugar) which is 6 teaspoons or less for children aged 2 to 19 as well as adult women.

While the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) does not include specific guidelines for children under the age of 2, the upcoming 2020-2025 edition is set to include dietary recommendations for infants and toddlers.

How can people reduce their intake of added sugars?

Ready-to-eat cereals, bakery items, sugar-sweetened beverages, yogurt, and candy can be major sources of added sugar. When reading ingredient labels, words ending in "ose," such as fructose, dextrose, and maltose, indicate high levels of added sugar.

“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 recommendations for added sugar too,” Herrick said.

She also advised people to opt for healthier ways to satisfy a sweet tooth, such as choosing more foods like whole fruits and vegetables and less of pre-sweetened cereals or juices. Increasing fiber intake can also help the body break down sugar more effectively.