Are Kids Eating Nearly Four Times More Sugar Than They Should Be?

The American Heart Association’s new recommendations for sugar intake are far below both the average and the FDA’s recommended daily value.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Aug 23, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

If it wasn’t clear before, sugar is now public health enemy No. 1 in the United States when it comes to diet issues. In the first eight months of 2016, the Food and Drug Administration announced that companies will soon have to disclose the amount of added sugar in foods, Philadelphia passed a soda tax, and other cities put similar measures on the November ballot.

With a growing amount of research finding strong links between high sugar consumption and obesity and diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, there is increased focus on limiting intake. The American Heart Association is raising new concerns about sugar and increased risk of cardiovascular disease for kids. It is recommending new guidelines for consumption, and they are low—very low.

According to a scientific statement published Monday, the AHA is recommending that kids eat no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily—and children under the age of two should have no added sugar. Currently, children between the ages of two and 19 consume about 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That accounts for 16 percent of the calories in kids’ diets, and half of that sugar comes from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda.

“Although added sugars most likely can be safely consumed in low amounts as part of a healthy diet,” according to the authors, “few children achieve such levels [as recommending by the AHA], making this an important public health target.”

Just one 12-ounce can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar—nearly 10 teaspoons. The FDA, which has more lenient recommendations for sugar intake, sets the daily recommended value at 40 grams.

Judging by rates for obesity and diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, the problems caused by a high-sugar diet might seem insurmountable. Without a serious public health intervention, 40 percent of Americans are expected to develop type 2 diabetes by 2050. But even if sugar intake is far above the AHA’s new recommended levels, there are signs of progress.

Consumption of soda—the leading source of added sugar in the American diet—is decreasing nationwide, for example. A 2015 story published by The New York Times called soda’s decline “the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade.” Local tax measures like the one passed in Berkeley, California, in 2014 have helped to push it down ever further. According to a study published Tuesday in The American Journal of Public Health, the city’s poorest communities are drinking 21 percent less soda than before the penny-per-ounce tax was implemented. That’s more than the 17 percent drop among poor households recorded in Mexico the first year after its nationwide soda tax was enforced.