Food and Behaviour Research

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Nearly All U.S. Kids Eating Added Sugars & Artificial Sweeteners Before Age 2

Vishwadha Chander


Nearly 85% of toddlers and infants in the United States eat foods containing added sugars and artificial sweeteners on any given day, researchers say.


For details of this research, see:

For many more articles on the effects of sugar in children's diets, see:

And for more articles on the effects of artificial sweeteners, see:

Nearly 85% of toddlers and infants in the United States eat foods containing added sugars and artificial sweeteners on any given day, researchers say.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2011 through 2016, the study team found that 98.3% of toddlers (ages 12 months to 23 months) and 60.6% of infants (age up to 11 months) consumed added sugars, mainly from yogurt, baby food, snacks and sweets, bakery products and fruit drinks.

Dietary guidelines on sugar intake for older children and adults exist, but when these data were gathered, only the American Heart Association (AHA) provided guidance for infants and toddlers, said study leader Kirsten Herrick, who conducted the research while at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

In a 2017 statement, the AHA said children under 2 years must avoid consuming added sugars entirely.

But Herrick and her team found consumption of added sugars starts early in life.

"General recommendations are six teaspoons or less for children between 2 and 19 years, and women, and nine teaspoons or less for men," said Herrick, now a researcher with the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Control and Population Science in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans will be revised in 2020 to include recommendations for children under age 2, Herrick and colleagues note in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To see how much added sugar babies and toddlers are currently consuming, Herrick's team analyzed 24-hour dietary data for a nationally-representative sample of 1,211 infants and toddlers whose parents participated in annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys in 2011-2016.

Researchers found no differences in sugar consumption among infants or toddlers by sex, family income or parents' education level, and no racial or ethnic differences among infants.

Among toddlers, however, the highest proportion consuming any added sugar were non-Hispanic white, at 99.6%, compared with 94.1% of non-Hispanic black toddlers. Black toddlers consumed the greatest daily amount of added sugars (8.2 teaspoons) and Asian toddlers the least (3.7 teaspoons).

"Consumption of added sugars among older children has already been associated with cavities, asthma, obesity, elevated blood pressure and altered lipid profiles," Herrick told Reuters Health in an email.

"Whether these associations exist for younger children hasn't be studied, partly because little information is available about added sugars consumption among infants and toddlers."

Herrick's team points out that eating patterns established early in life shape taste preferences later.

"Added sugars are just empty calories," Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford, told Reuters Health by phone.

"Your children are not getting any kind of nutrition, just extra calories, which, in light of concerns about childhood obesity, is clearly a problem."

Schwartz said children may be getting used to consuming sweetened foods and will develop preferences for such beverages over water or milk.

Schwartz added that a regulatory policy on how beverages are labeled is "absolutely" needed.

"Parents are often confused, and in my opinion, it's deceptive to have a bunch of pictures of fruit or health claims to make a product look like it's healthy," said Schwartz, who was not involved in the current study.

"Parents need to read the fine print, the back of the bottle and look at the nutrition information and ingredients."

The current study results were not all bad news, Herrick notes, in that the researchers found the amount of added sugars consumed has declined over time for infants and toddlers.

But both Herrick and Schwartz believe better awareness will help.

"For infants and toddlers, the recommendation is to avoid added sugars altogether. Parents can offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to water, rather than sugar-sweetened beverages," Herrick said.