Most Babies Are Eating Added Sugars Every Day

Yogurt, baby snacks and fruit juice are among the top sources of sugar for infants and toddlers, scientists have warned in a study.

Almost two-thirds of babies and 98 percent of toddlers eat foods which contain added sugar every day, according to the nationally representative study published in the journal Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers looked at data on 1,211 children aged between 6 and 23 months old taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2011 and 2016. The team then assessed databases of foods eaten in the U.S. to categorize the products.

In children aged between 6 and 11 months old yogurt, baby snacks and sweets, sweet bakery products, dairy drinks including flavored products and fruit juices were the biggest sources of added sugar.

For kids aged 12 to 23 months, fruit drinks accounted for most of the added sugar in their diet, followed by sweet bakery products, sugar and candy, yogurt and sweetened beverages.

Babies were found to eat the equivalent of around one teaspoon of added sugar each day, amounting to around 2 percent of their daily caloric intake. In toddlers, this spiked to six teaspoons, or 8 percent of their recommended intake.

When the numbers were crunched according to demographics, non-Hispanic Asian toddlers ate the least sugar, at 3.7 teaspoons, while non-Hispanic black toddlers ate the most at 8.2 teaspoons.

However, a positive trend also emerged from the data: Between 2005 and 2016, the number of children eating added sugars, and the amount they consumed, fell.

The findings have "important public health implications since previous research has shown that eating patterns established early in life shape later eating patterns," said study co-author Kirsten A. Herrick of the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

In a statement, she pointed to research which showed children who drank sugar-sweetened beverages before their first birthday were more than twice as likely to consume such drinks once a day by the age of 6, compared to kids who didn't try sugar-sweetened drinks before the age of 1.

Past studies also suggest children over the age of 2 who eat sugar are more likely to have cavities, asthma, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol and fats in the blood, Herrick said.

Herrick told parents: "The transition from a milk-based diet (breast milk and formula) to table foods has an impact on nutrition, taste preference, and eating patterns. More work is needed to understand this critical period."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises parents to "make a rainbow" on their child's plate, by feeding them fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, yogurt and cheeses.

Foods with added sugars—like candy, cakes, cookies and ice cream—as well as salt—like canned food, processed meat, and frozen dinners—should be avoided.

Herrick told Newsweek: "Added sugars are everywhere in our food environment. Simply paying attention to where we might be getting added sugars in our diet is a great habit to get into. Readers can use the Nutrition Facts label as a place to start.

"While the inclusion of the added sugars content of foods and beverages isn't
mandatory on the Nutrition Fact Label until January 2020, many labels already include this information. The CDC has a great website with information on infant and toddler nutrition. It includes helpful information about what, when, and how to feed this group."

Herrick concluded: "The main message is that infants and toddlers don't need added sugars. The goal is to make sure this group is getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need for healthy growth and development, without excess calories.

"Parents should offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, or choose packaged versions without added sugars. Water is also an ideal beverage to offer
as it doesn't contain any added sugars."

This article has been updated with comment from Kirsten Herrick, and information on the cohort.

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A stock image shows a picture of a parent feeding their child. Scientists have looked at how much sugar babies and toddlers eat. Getty