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Chances are high your toddler is eating too much added sugar, potentially putting him at risk for obesity and other health problems later in life, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Researchers with the CDC analyzed survey data from parents of 800 American children ages 6 months through just under 2 years old. Parents recorded the foods and beverages their children consumed over a 24-hour period, including foods with added sugar. The researchers used this information to calculate the children's added sugar intake.
More than 4 out of 5 children consumed added sugar, and their intake increased with age, the researchers found. Babies ages 6 to 11 months averaged just under 1 teaspoon a day, but between 12 and 18 months old that amount grew to more than 5 teaspoons a day, according to the study.
By the time children reached 1 ½ to 2 years old they were consuming more than 7 teaspoons of added sugar a day. That's more than the amount of sugar in a Snickers bar. It's also more than the government's 6-teaspoon daily added-sugar limit recommended for older children and adult women.
Added sugar includes cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and other forms of sugar that are added to foods such as yogurt, ready-to-eat cereals, sugary drinks, candy and baked goods. The researchers did not count artificial, zero-calorie sweeteners. They also ignored sugars that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk, which are considered healthier because they come with other nutrients such as fiber and vitamins.
It wasn't a perfect study. The researchers relied on parents remembering what their children ate. It was also based on sugar consumption at a single point in time.
The CDC doesn't currently offer dietary guidelines for children under two, but it's working on some. The American Heart Association, meanwhile, recommends that children under 2 years avoid added sugar altogether.
Kids who eat too much sugary food early in life may learn to prefer sweet and unhealthy food as they grow older, the CDC said. That could put them at risk for health problems. Eating too much added sugar has been linked to increased risk for obesity, asthma, dental problems, diabetes and elevated blood pressure in older children.
Lead study author Kirsten Herrick said parents can reduce added sugars in their own and their children's diets by swapping them out for natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.