American Heart Association Calls for Sharp Limits on Sugar for Kids

The recommendation comes after a review of evidence of how sugar consumption affects children's health. FDA is scheduled to add information on added sugar to food labels in 2018.

Children age 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and drink less than a full can of soda per week, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Limiting added sugar will help reverse risings rates of chronic ailments like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, which the AHA said are strongly associated with the increased adiposity and dyslipidemia that result from too much sugar.

Recommendations for sharp new limits on sugar come as the FDA is within 2 years of requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel, starting in July 2018. Some companies have starting listing added sugar already.

While some efforts to tax soda have failed, nutrition advocates scored a major win in June when Philadelphia added a soda tax to fund education programs. In South Africa, a Coca-Cola is threatening to close plants and take away jobs if the government follows through on a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

The recommendations come after the AHA convened an expert panel that reviewed available evidence on the effect of added sugar on children’s health. “Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” said Miriam Vos, MD, MsPH, lead author of the recommendations, which appear in the AHA journal, Circulation.

Vos is a nutrition scientist and professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, which is also home to Coca-Cola, which licenses its sugary syrup to bottlers across the globe.

The target recommendation is the same for all children from 2 to 18 to keep things simple for parents, Vos said in a statement from the AHA. For children under age 2, no added sugar is recommended.

Six added teaspoons equals less than 25 grams or 100 calories. The panel recommends that children limit their sugar-sweetened beverage intake to a single 8-ounce beverage per week—less than a standard 12-ounce soda can.

AHA’s announcement comes as sugar consumption is falling, but it still represents 16% of the calories in the diet of a typical American child. The AHA said the top contributors to sugar in children’s diets are soda, fruit and sports drinks, and cakes and cookies.

Children who consume high amounts of added sugar have higher average daily energy intakes compared with others. High levels of sugar-sweetened beverage and added sugar consumption has been linked to risk of obesity, the AHA said. Added sugar also appears to be associated with insulin resistance, the group said.