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November 22, 2019

Toddlers shouldn't eat any added sugar—yet 98% do, study finds

Daily Briefing

    Most infants and nearly all toddlers consume added sugars each day, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, despite expert recommendations that neither toddlers nor infants consume added sugars.

    Cheat sheets: Learn more about why study design matters

    Added sugars are defined as any sweetener that does not occur naturally in food.

    Study details

    For the study, researchers looked at CDC data and found that, from 2011 to 2016, 98% of toddlers ages 12 to 23 months consumed added sugars every day, while about 60% of infants up to 11 months old consumed added sugars every day.

    Among toddlers, added sugars typically came from fruit drinks, baked goods, candy, and cereals, while infants consumed their sugar typically through yogurt, baby snacks, and flavored milk.

    Kirsten Herrick, lead author of the study and program director of the division of cancer control and population studies within the National Cancer Institute, said the researchers "did not find any differences in added sugar consumption by sex, family income level, or head of household education."

    Herrick said the researchers did find "differences in added sugars consumption by race and Hispanic origin." She noted that non-Hispanic Asian toddlers consumed the fewest added sugars, around 3.7 teaspoons [a day], while non-Hispanic Black toddlers consumed the most added sugars, about 8.2 teaspoons [a day]." However, Herrick added that the study sample size wasn't large enough to make any scientific conclusions about the differences in added sugar consumption by race.


    The results of this study come despite recommendations from experts that toddlers and infants avoid added sugars entirely. The American Heart Association, for example, advises that toddlers and infants completely avoid sugar-sweetened drinks. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society's 2016 dietary guidelines advise that adults limit added sugar consumption to 10% of their daily calories.

    "The consumption of added sugars among children has been associated with negative health conditions such as cavities, asthma, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and altered lipid profiles," Herrick said. She added, "Whether these associations exist for even younger children hasn't been studied. The aim of this study was to focus on one aspect of diet—added sugars [and] consumption among U.S. infants and toddlers—that could inform the dietary guidelines."

    Herrick warned that exposing children to added sugars early in their lives could have an impact on their future eating habits.

    "There is no reason to provide sugar-sweetened beverages," she said. "They need nutrient-dense foods" (Holson, New York Times, 11/14; LaMotte, CNN, 11/14; Malicdem, Medical Daily, 11/15).

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