In Not So Sweet News, American Toddlers Are Eating More Sugar Than Adults


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

A food author, cook and mom of four banned her kids from eating sugary foods. She even banned birthday cake and compared these types of foods to highly addictive drugs.

In fact, she suggested that sugar has the same effect on the brain as cocaine.

“It’s a hit,” she said.

This anti-sugar mom received some backlash from others who suggested that she was being way too restrictive and that kids should be allowed to be kids.

But she is not the first person to suggest that like drugs, sugar is addictive.

There is some evidence showing that in humans, “...sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs.”  

And a recent study reveals that American toddlers could certainly afford to cut back on their sugar intake. According to this study, many American toddlers’ sugar intake surpasses the recommended amount for adults!

Researchers analyzed data from more than 800 toddlers and infants between 6-23 months old who participated in a nutrition examination survey.

Parents were asked to take note of everything their children consumed within a 24-hour period.

“To assess added sugar, researchers counted any calorie-containing sugars that were added to a food item, including cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and other forms of sugar. The study did not include artificial zero-calorie sweeteners or the sugars that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk.”

The results revealed that 85 percent of infants and toddlers consumed added sugar on any given day. On top of this, added sugar consumption increased with age.

  • Age 6-11 months, just over 60 percent of babies consumed added sugar on a given day, averaging just under 1 teaspoon.
  • Age 12-18 months, 98 percent consumed added sugar on a given day, averaging 5.5 teaspoons.


Reportedly, the study found that “99 percent of a representative sample of US toddlers age 19-23 months consumed an average of just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar on a given day—more than the amount in a Snickers bar. Sixty percent of children were found to consume added sugar before age 1.”

(The American Heart Association recommends that adult women eat no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day, adult men no more than nine teaspoons. Of course, this amount may need to be reduced if you have any existing health issues or are trying to lose weight).

And the possible consequences of eating too much sugar will surely leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Having too much sugar in your diet may cause weight gain and increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression. An intake of excess sugar may cause inflammation throughout the body, and inflammation is believed to be the root cause of many diseases.

Remember, there is a difference between sugar which naturally occurs in foods and added sugar.

Many healthy, whole foods such as carrots, mangoes, beets and pineapple contain substantial amounts of sugar. These types of foods are also very nutrient-dense and contain essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C and calcium.

Added sugar is just what it sounds like it is - sugar that is added to foods (or not naturally present in that food). You will find added sugars in a lot of processed, nutrient-void foods, like candy, cookies, sodas, baked goods and certain cereals. Added sugar is not necessary for meeting our nutritional requirements. Foods with added sugar have very little nutritional value and are often high in empty calories. They contribute to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“This is the first time we have looked at added sugar consumption among children less than 2 years old,” said one of the lead authors of the study mentioned earlier.

“Our results show that added sugar consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations. These data may be relevant to the upcoming 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans."

In addition to the possible health problems we addressed earlier that can come with consuming too much sugar, dental cavities and an increased risk of asthma are also on the list. Furthermore, just like with salt, eating sugar early in life will most likely cause young kids to develop a preference for eating sugar later in life.

So how can we be proactive?

First, we have to take a look at ourselves and make the necessary changes to be good examples for our children.

Today the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year!

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories,” according to Harvard’s school of public health.

We cannot expect to reduce our children’s sugar intake if we do not reduce our own.

  • Steer clear of processed foods (or save them for special occasions only).

It’s okay for a child to have a slice of birthday cake. But remember, we have to train our children to eat healthily early in life if we want them to have a healthy future. Remember that the more sugar children eat, the more sugar they will likely eat throughout adulthood.

  • Stock up with the right foods.

Keep plenty of delicious fruits at home for those times your child is craving something sweet. Keep them within reach in the refrigerator - at eye level in the refrigerator. Instead of always having ice cream in the freezer, try some frozen fruits (like grapes).

And keep in mind, that we all need to include in our diets other nutrients like proteins, water, carbohydrates, fats and plenty of vegetables (along with the fruit we eat) for a healthy, balanced diet. Make eating foods with these nutrients fun by involving your kids in meal prep and taking them to the farmer’s market. Doing these activities with your kids will empower them and make them confident about making healthy food choices. Herbs and spices may also be the secret to getting kids to eat more veggies!

  • Watch out for hidden sugar bombs. 

I think one of the biggest issues is that many parents may not even realize how much sugar they are giving their children in the first place.

Always read food labels and be aware that many savory food products still have a lot of added sugar. Here is a list of common food items that usually have a lot of added sugar.

  • Tomato pasta sauces. Instead, make your own sauce with fresh tomato and basil. It’s more work but definitely worth it.
  • Salad dressings. Make your own dressing with olive oil, lemon and vinegar. You can even mash up an avocado and blend it with the above ingredients for a delicious, creamy dressing.
  • Baby food. Some store-bought baby foods have added sugar, sodium and preservatives. This is why it is so important to read food labels. You can also make your own baby food.
  • Fruit juice. At the grocery store, you may see labels that say “100% juice” and think this would be great for your kid. In reality, a lot of juice at the store has added sugar and just one serving of juice may have as much as 8 teaspoons of sugar. Instead, make fruit smoothies at home or buy fresh juice at the farmer’s market. Stay away from fruit punch and juice boxes. You can also flavor your child’s water with frozen fruit.

We have to face the problem head on, and the problem is babies and children are just eating way too much sugar and this compounds the obesity problems we are now facing.

Finally, remember to also practice moderation when it comes to dietary sources of natural sugar from foods, like fruit.

If you have concerns that your child is consuming too much sugar, speak with a competent healthcare professional about possible changes you can make to your child’s diet.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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