Health

No more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for kids, experts say

Children from the age of two to 18 should eat or drink no more than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to recommendations published Monday in an American Health Association journal.

Sweetened beverages, cookies, cereals among common sources of sugar intake

An assortment of candies and sweets in a store display are shown in this file photo. (American Heart Association/Handout)

Children from the age of two to 18 should eat or drink no more than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to recommendations published Monday in an American Health Association journal.

The recommended amount equates to 100 calories or 25 grams, falling in line with guidelines previously expressed by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that added sugars should make up less than 10 per cent of calories.

The position statement, published in Circulation, was co-authored by a panel of doctors, nutritionists and dieticians who undertook a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effect of added sugars on children's health.

"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," said lead author Dr. Miriam Vos, a nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga.

Added sugars are defined as any sugars used in processing and preparing foods or beverages, or added to foods at the table or eaten separately, including table sugar, fructose and honey. The findings do not deal with sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine and sucralose, nor do they pertain to 100 per cent fruit juices, due to a relative lack of available research

Added sugars can increase the risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults and can make them more apt to be insulin resistant — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — or be afflicted with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Sweetened beverages such as pop, fruit-flavoured and sports drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks are common sources of sugar intake. 

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

One can of pop can contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has indicated.

Guidelines, consumption in line with Canadian experience

A challenge for parents is that so many of the foods and snacks with high sugar content are marketed specifically to children, such as sweet cereals, cereal bars, cookies and cakes.

Sweet cereals can run the gamut from six grams of sugar per one-cup serving to 20 grams.

The estimate for calories needed by children range from 1,000 a day for a non-active two-year-old to 2,400 for an active 14- to 18-year-old girl and 3,200 for an active 16- to 18-year-old boy.

Vos said the blanket recommendation over the wide age range helps "keep it simple for parents and public health advocates."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada in recent years has encouraged Canadians to limit their intake of added or free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their calorie intake, and ideally no more than five per cent.

According to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey of nutrition, a self-reporting diet survey with results later released by Statistics Canada, Canadians on average were consuming about 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, or about 20 per cent of their calorie intake. The results varied according to age group, with sugar consumption highest among teenage boys aged 14 to 18 — an average of 41 teaspoons.

The panel of experts from the Circulation review of research recommends parents promote and provide to their children a diet rich in the following: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish.

It also recommended that added sugars not be included at all in the diet of children under the age of two, as the calorie needs of the age group are lower, and the early introduction of added sugars in the diet of an infant may promote a strong preference for sweet-tasting foods.

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