Children between 2 and 18 years old should consume 25 grams or fewer of added sugars per day, while children younger than 2 years old should avoid added sugars, according to an American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement.
The AHA, which published the statement online in Circulation on Aug. 22, noted that 25 grams was equivalent to six teaspoons or approximately 100 calories.
Lead researcher Miriam B. Vos, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta, and her colleagues defined added sugars as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table.”
The most common contributors to added sugars include soda, fruit-flavored and sports drinks, cakes and cookies.
To gather data for this statement, the researchers searched PubMed for original research, studies conducted in humans and systematic reviews through November 2015. They also reviewed reference lists of relevant articles. They also examined dietary data from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) from 2009 to 2012 to include the most recent estimates of added sugar consumption in the U.S.
They found that children between 2 and 19 years old consume an average of 80 grams of added sugar per day—87 grams for boys and 73 grams for girls. Added sugar intake accounted for 16.1 percent of total energy intake for boys and girls. They also mentioned that added sugars intake increased with age.
The researchers did not find any studies that evaluated the doses of added sugars in a child’s diet that would have no harmful effect on cardiovascular risk. However, they said that studies have shown cardiovascular risk increases as added sugars consumption increases. They also mentioned that consuming too many added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure.
“Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” Vos said in a news release. “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 researchers noted that food manufacturers will be required to list the amount of added sugars on food labels beginning in July 2018. Still, they said further research should examine questions such as whether there is a threshold of added sugars below which there are no negative effects on cardiovascular health and whether the risks associated with added sugar are lower if sugars are consumed in foods instead of beverages.
“Longitudinal studies, intervention studies and randomized, controlled trials are urgently needed to provide high-quality data for policy decisions,” they wrote.