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American Heart Association recommends further restricting sugar in children’s diets

The average American child aged 2 to 19 takes in about 80 grams of added sugar daily.

Children and teens should consume no more than 25 grams — or 6 teaspoons — of added sugar daily, according to a scientific statement issued this week by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Twenty-five grams of sugar is the equivalent of about 100 calories.

The AHA statement, which is based on a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effects of added sugar on children’s health, also recommends that children and teens drink no more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened soda or other beverage weekly.

And children under the age of 2 years should have no foods or drinks with added sugar.

Added sugar refers to all sugars — including sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, rice syrup and honey — used in processing and preparing foods or drinks, as well as sugar added to foods at the table or eaten separately.

Putting children at risk

Parents are going to have to come up with some radically different meal plans. For the AHA’s recommended limits on added sugar are far below what kids are currently consuming. The average American child aged 2 to 19 takes in about 80 grams of added sugar daily — half from food and half from beverages, according to the AHA’s analysis of the most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

That’s more than three times the AHA’s recommended amount.

And the NHANES estimates are probably low, as people tend to underreport their consumption of unhealthful foods on surveys.

As the AHA statement points out, a diet high in added sugar increases the likelihood that children will develop risk factors for heart disease — particularly elevated blood pressure and obesity — before they even reach adulthood.

In addition, children who fill up on sugary foods tend to eat fewer healthful ones, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

And it’s easy for children to fill up on sugary foods. For example, one serving of the average children’s cereal contains 10.4 grams, or 2.6 teaspoons, of added sugar, according to the Environmental Working Group. (Granola, which many people consider healthful, is even worse. One serving of it contains, on average, 10.7 grams, or 2.7 teaspoons, of added sugar.)

But sugar is also “hidden” in a wide variety of other processed foods, ones parents may not suspect, such as yogurt, pasta and pizza sauce, applesauce, peanut butter, ketchup and sandwich bread (including 100 percent whole-wheat bread).

Starting in July 2018, food manufacturers will be required to list the amount of added sugars on their labels, a long-awaited change that should make it a bit easier for parents to keep track of their child’s sugar consumption.

“Until then, the best way to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet is to serve mostly foods that are high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, and to limit foods with little nutritional value,” said Dr. Miriam Vos, the lead author of the AHA’s new recommendations and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta, in a released statement.

(Make sure those whole-grain and low-fat dairy products are not loaded with sugar, however. And “fruits” doesn’t meant fruit juices, which are high in sugar.)

“If your child is eating the right amount of calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, there isn’t much room in their food ‘budget’ for low-value junk foods, which is where most added sugars are found,” she added.

FMI: The AHA scientific statement was published in the organization’s journal Circulation, where it can be downloaded and read in full.

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