Every parent wants to do the right thing for their kids, and monitoring what they eat is just one way to start a child on the road to good health. But, as a new study has found, toddlers in the United States are eating more sugar than they should be. What's more, according to the recent study's findings, the average sugar intake of the children included in the research is actually higher than the recommended amount for American adults.
The study's results were pulled from the 2011 to 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), evaluating the diets of more than 800 children between the ages of 6 to 23 months old, according to a press release via Eureka Alert. One of the study's researchers, Kirsten Herrick — who works with the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — noted in the press release of the study that they specifically looked at added sugars in foods, separating them from naturally occurring sugars in things like fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Still, the results were concerning. Things seem to start off well, with infants between the ages of 6 and 11 months consuming just under 1 teaspoon of added sugar per day, as the study found. For children between 12 to 18 months old, the amount averaged 5.5 teaspoons, the study noted. But between the ages of 19 and 23 months old, children were eating an average of 7 teaspoons of sugar per day, according to the study. As USA Today put it, "that's more than the amount found in a Snickers bar."
That's something to take note of, indeed, since, as the study noted, that exceeds the government's nutrition sugar guidelines for adults, which recommend no more than 6 teaspoons per day for adult women and children between 2 and 19 years old, and no more than 9 teaspoons per day for adult men.
The study was presented at a meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, according to CBS News. Herrick commented that the study is covering new ground and explained in the press release for the study:
This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than two years old. Our results show that added sugar consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations.
Of course, everyone remembers loving sugary foods as a child; I know I practically subsisted on chocolaty cereals when I was a kid myself. But as Parents noted, these cravings can be hard to kick since kids are already hard-wired to seek out sweets. But, allowing too much sugar can have hidden effects. “Sugar overload may prevent their taste buds from maturing,” Dr. David Ludwig with Children’s Hospital Boston told Parents. "Kids won’t develop the ability to appreciate, let alone eat, a variety of foods.” As such, this kind of diet can actually lead to malnutrition, Dr. Ludwig explained Parents, as sugar-laden calories replace nutrient-rich foods in a child’s diet.
In the long term, sugar is often implicated in everything from obesity to high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. And one frightening consequence of high-sugar diets is a risk that diseases like this could develop earlier, harming their long-term health, according to Parents. Additionally, according to She Knows, eating too much added sugar can cause tooth decay, behavioral problems, as well as diabetes.
According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the same study (NHANES) that Herrick pulled her data from did identify the top foods that are sugar culprits for children and they’re not surprising: soda and sports drinks; fruit drinks including fruit juice; snack cakes and cookies; dairy desserts and candy are the worst offenders.
So how can you start to limit the amount of sugar in your child's diet? Some tactics may be a bit more difficult to incorporate into daily life, such as cooking more at home so you know exactly what's in your meals and trying to eat more whole foods, like healthy grains and fresh produce, as The Independent noted. Additionally, as this new study noted, you can also try packing snacks before leaving the house so there isn’t the urge to buy something more likely to contain sugar. Overall, any effort to begin replacing sugar-leaden foods with healthier versions will hopefully help a child’s taste buds adapt and fill them up on the most nutritional kinds of calories. But when your toddler is demanding some sugar stat, you can refer to the American Heart Association's "Sugar 101" list to help you decide what to try and avoid.
The real takeaway of this new study is to begin early, when their diet and food choices are still something largely under a parent’s control. Cracking down on those extra sources of sugar may be tough at times — everyone gets a sweet tooth from time to time — but doing so now will only benefit your little ones' health in the long run.