The American Heart Association (AHA) has made itself clear — until children are two-years-old, they should consume no added sugars. Between the ages of two and 18, young ones should limit their added sugars to 25 grams a day or approximately six teaspoons of regular sugar.
"I think its become clear over time that heart health and prevention of cardiovascular disease starts in childhood," said Dr. Miriam Vos, lead author of a statement from the AHA published in the journal Circulation. "We've been gaining more information on sugar over time."
However, the average American child is getting 50 to 75 grams of added sugar each day, which is two to three times the amount that is recommended, according to Vos.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston reports that the average can of sugar-sweetened beverage contains approximately 40 grams or 10 teaspoons of processed sugar, writes Reuters.
As for breakfast foods such as cereals, instant oatmeal, cereal bars, and pastries, they also contain high amounts of added sugars, notes the T.H. Chan School.
Because the government and medical recommendations concerning sugar are often suggested as portions of daily calories, it can be confusing for parents, notes Vos of Emory University and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Not only can sugar influence weight gain, but it can also affect cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and fatty liver disease, all of which can lead to risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
"Children under the age of 2 are growing so rapidly (and) need so many nutrients that they don't have room in their diets for non-nutritious foods," said Vos.
Dairy and fruit items contain some natural sugars, but the "total sugar content" on US food labels usually means added sugars. Beginning in 2018, the US will be required to list on food labels the specific amount of added sugars.
"I think that having a specific amount to shoot for will help," she said. "It will help not only families, but people who take care of our children."
Making sure that children are ingesting no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day is going to be difficult for parents. The AHA says taking this goal seriously is "an important public health target."
Vos points out that a whole grain bagel with cream cheese can have no added sugar. An iced doughnut has 23 grams of added sugar. A bowl of cereal can have anywhere from 1g all the way to 12g depending on which company manufactures it, reports Lauren Levy, writing for Popsugar.
The number one source of calories from added sugar in US children's diets is sugary drinks. Kids who drink these ultra-sweetened concoctions are at a greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The Food and Drug Administration's guidelines, which allow 50 grams of sugar a day for children over three-years-old, are less strict than the new AHA restrictions. A cup of Mott's applesauce has 22g of added sugar.
How is sugar defined? Sugar is table sugar, honey and all those many names on labels that mean sugar but are cloaked in words most people do not recognize to be sugar, like corn syrup, liquid fructose, maltose, and diglycerides, along with many, many others.
The AHA panel of experts says that keeping sugar away from babies can set their taste preferences for the rest of their lives, says Nicole Lyn Pesce writing for the New York Daily News. Parents can set their kids up for preferring healthier foods by getting rid of added sugar.