New guidelines on added sugar for kids

Children in the United States currently consume an average of 19 teaspoons of sugar a day. But the American Heart Association wants families to focus on taming that sweet tooth.

In its first-ever guidelines on added sugar, the American Heart Association calls for a daily limit of less than six teaspoons for children between ages 2 and 18, and none at all for kids younger than 2 years old.

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that adults and children limit their added sugar intake to 10 percent of their daily calories. But for those who can’t grasp how much “10 percent” actually is, the American Heart Association’s guidelines are easier to understand.  

“This really simplifies it and says six teaspoons, 100 calories a day, 25 grams,” CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula – also a cardiologist with Northwell Health – told “CBS This Morning” Tuesday.

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CBS News

But some may say the guidelines are too conservative, and question whether it makes sense to put older teenagers in the same category as toddlers. For an active 16- to 18-year-old boy, six teaspoons would only makeup 3 percent of his calories. But Narula stressed that added sugars – which include high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and honey – have no nutritional value.

“They are empty calories and all they’re doing is raising the calorie intake, again, without providing any benefit. And it’s currently 16 percent of kids’ daily calories,” she said.

Added sugars are often a trick for parents who want to convince their kids to eat foods they might otherwise refuse. Narula said it’s best to try to limit added sugar intake to foods that also come with other nutrients, such as milk and whole grains, rather than sugary sodas, for example, which have no nutritional value.

Otherwise, Narula urged that the best alternative for parents is to stick with natural sugars, such as those found in fresh fruit. But she also warned that too much natural sugar can also pile up the calories. 

Meanwhile, she said there is not enough research to determine whether non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose are a safe alternative for kids; some studies have linked them to weight gain. 

Narula explained that the stricter limit on added sugars can help prevent future health problems, including obesity, cholesterol disorders, high blood pressure and more. 

“We see the beginnings of coronary artery diseases in teenagers, so what sugar does when it’s added in excess – it can increase your risk of obesity, it can increase your risk of high blood pressure, it can alter your body’s cholesterol in a way that’s unhealthy… and it can promote insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes​.”