AHA advises on added sugars

25 Aug 2016

Children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to the scientific statement recommending a specific limit on added sugars for children, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

AHA advises on added sugars

Children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to the scientific statement recommending a specific limit on added sugars for children, published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation.

Six teaspoons of added sugars is equivalent to about 100 calories or 25 grams.

“Our target recommendation is the same for all children between the ages of 2 and 18 to keep it simple for parents and public health advocates,” said Miriam Vos, nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. “For most children, eating no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day is a healthy and achievable target. Children who eat foods loaded with added sugars tend to eat fewer healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health.”

The likelihood of children developing these health problems rises with an increase in the amount of added sugars consumed, AHA says. Overweight children who continue to take in more added sugars are more likely to be insulin-resistant, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, according to the statement.

“There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high – the typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars,” said Vos.

The statement was written by a panel of experts who undertook a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effect of added sugars on children's health, which presented challenges common to this kind of nutrition research.

“Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” said Vos. “We believe the scientific evidence for our recommendations is strong and having a specific amount to target will significantly help parents and public health advocates provide the best nutrition possible for our children."

The statement notes that one of the most common sources of added sugars is sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, fruit-flavoured and sports drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks.

“Children should not drink more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened drink a week yet they are currently drinking their age in sugary drink servings each and every week,” said Vos.

Because of the lack of research for or against the routine use of non-nutritive sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharine and sucralose in the diets of children, the authors felt they could not make a recommendation for or against these no-calorie sweeteners. In addition, it is not known whether the high sugar content in 100 percent fruit juices should cause the same concerns as beverages with added sugars.