When a group of middle school children saw their teacher pour 16 teaspoons of sugar out of a 20 oz soda container they were shocked. It turns out that that 16 teaspoons of sugar is almost 3 times as much added sugar as kids should consume in an entire day according the American Heart Association’s first ever recommendations for sugar intake for kids and adolescents.
The USDA defines sugars as all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods and sugars added to foods. And approximately 50% of added sugars in children’s diets comes from sugar-sweetened beverages. This includes soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks.
The American Heart Association created guidelines for sugar intake for children because of the rising incidence of obesity, type II diabetes, and several cancers we have seen increasingly more of in the last decade and even longer. Today’s children are the very first to have a lower lifetime expectation than their parents and by many it is felt that sugar is a big reason.
For a child aged 1-6 the recommendations are 4-6 oz of sugar sweetened beverage per day and for children aged 7-18 the recommendations are 8-12 oz per day. Both of these recommendations are in keeping with approximately 10% or less of total caloric intake for the day.
Diet quality is also a concern. According to an article in the Journal of Pediatrics, eating a lot of sugary, processed foods can also lead to nutrient insufficiency, and I would agree. In my position as a nutritionist, I see a lot of Spectracells (nutrient deficiency testing that we perform here at LifeScape) and the age group that has the most deficiencies is approximately 5 – 25 years old. To solidify this, the Journal of Pediatrics showed that those aged 9 to 20 and consumed more than 40% of their total calories reported low Vitamins A, D and E as well as calcium and potassium.
Though it is difficult to monitor everything that goes into your child’s mouth, especially when he/she is in school, it’s not hard to keep processed, prepared foods out of the house and replaced with fruits, veggies, and nuts for kids to snack on.