Eating foods with added sugar leads to a number of health conditions, including obesity, cavities and possibly heart disease. Unfortunately, consuming these foods in excess starts when we are young, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
Children, particularly toddlers, who consume sugary foods are much more likely to make poor diet choices later in life. Recommendations by the American Heart Association say children under 2 should avoid any foods with added sugar, especially yogurt, ready-to-eat cereal, and candy.
"This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years," Kirsten Herrick, a nutritional epidemiologist from the CDC, told ABC News.
Over 60 percent of sugar in the diets of children less than 12-months-old came from foods with added sugar. The amount increased substantially to nearly 99 percent by the time they reached 24 months. Seven teaspoons of added sugar, twice the amount in a cup of chocolate milk, was the average for toddlers between 19 and 23 months.
The researchers pointed out that toddlers really should be getting sugar from fruits and vegetables, not from foods with added sugar. The extra sugar only adds calories and does not contribute anything nutritionally.
Even if the food sounds healthy, it can contain a large dose of added sugar. Six teaspoons of extra sugar can be found in a regular serving of yogurt. Surprisingly, dried fruits contain an enormous amount of sugar, nearly 21 teaspoons in one cup. Ketchup and other condiments are often loaded with added sugar as well.
Under current recommendations, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) state anyone 2 and older should not be getting more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugar. However, the guidelines do not give any suggestions for children younger than 2.
The CDC just recently launched a website that gives parents advice on diets that limit certain foods and drinks for toddlers and babies. The DGA will likely be updated in the 2020-2025 edition to include young children.
The CDC added sugar study did have an explicit limitation. The measured amount of extra sugar reportedly consumed by the children in the study was based entirely on the parent's memory. Further studies are planned that will better evaluate the specific sources of added sugar children are eating.