Kids' Consumption of Added Sugar Is Down, but Not Nearly Enough

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Still far above recommended levels, children under the age of 11 are getting more than 15 percent of daily calories from added sugars.

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The good news is that children and adolescents in the United States have reduced their intake of added sugars. The bad news is that they still eat too much of it, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

A team of researchers at the CDC looked at the 2005-2008 results for added sugar consumption among U.S. children and adolescents from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The CDC report showed that consumption of added sugars decreased between 1999 and 2008 but is still above recommended levels. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines advise limiting intake of "discretionary" calories (added sugars and solid fats) to no more than five to 15 percent of calories per day.

According to the report, children and teens consumed 16 percent of their total calories from added sugars. Preschoolers consumed the least amount of sugar at about 13 percent of calories -- hardly a small amount. The report also showed that sugar intake increased as children got older. Among children aged six to 11, boys consumed 16.6 percent and girls 15.7 percent of their calories from added sugars. Those in the 12- to 19-year-old age group consumed even more, with girls at 16.6 percent and boys consuming 17.5 percent of their calories from added sugars.

Teenage girls consumed 314 calories a day and teenage boys consumed 442 calories a day from added sugars, the equivalent of about three regular soft drinks. White children and teens ate a greater percentage of calories from added sugar than Mexican-American kids. Income level made no difference in how much sugar children and teens consumed. Added sugars were more often consumed at home rather than outside the home.

While it is commonly believed that sugary beverages are the source of the majority of added sugars in children's diets, the report showed that only 41 percent of added sugar came from beverages and the rest came from food. Hidden away in foods like boxed dessert mixes, dried fruit snacks, fruit punch, chicken nuggets, catsup, and banana chips, sugars can go undetected because they go by so many names: dextrose, fructose, sucrose, glucose, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, cane juice syrup, molasses, and sorghum.

You can decrease your child's sugar intake by baking from scratch and using less sugar; buying fewer sugary beverages and having water, fat-free milk, and 100 percent juice available; keeping cut-up fresh fruit in the refrigerator for snacks and desserts; and buying fewer prepared, processed, and frozen foods. These include cookies, candies, bakery goods, ice cream confections, granola bars, and sugary breakfast cereals.

The report was published online in the National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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