CDC Report: Kids Still Eat Too Much Added Sugar

About 16% of Kids' Total Calories Come From Added Sugars, New Report Finds

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on February 28, 2012

Feb. 29, 2012 -- U.S. children and teens have cut down on added sugars but still eat too much, according to a new report.

"Added sugar consumption is high among children and teens," says Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, which issued the report.

About 16% of total calories eaten by children and teens are from added sugars, Ogden found.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting intake of ''discretionary'' calories, including added sugars and solid fats, to a total of 5% to 15% daily.

The new report is published as an NCHS Data Brief.

Added Sugars by the Numbers

Ogden examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It is a government survey that assesses the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population.

Added sugars are defined as sweeteners added to processed and prepared foods. Eating too much added sugar has been linked to weight gain and an increase in cholesterol levels in teens that may raise the risk of heart disease.

Overall, the children and teens took in 16% of their total calories from added sugars. However, Ogden found that boys ate more than girls. Boys got 16.3% of calories from added sugars. Girls got an average of 15.5% of their calories from added sugars.

How might that translate to calories? "Boys 12 to 19 got 442 calories [a day] from [added] sugar," Ogden tells WebMD. "A little over three regular sodas a day would give you that."

Other findings:

  • Preschool-aged children 2 to 5 ate the least amount of calories from added sugars.
  • White children and teens ate a larger percent of calories from added sugar than those of Mexican-American descent.
  • Income levels of families seemed to have no effects on the amount of added sugars eaten.
  • Overall, more added sugars came from foods compared to beverages.
  • About 40% of calories from added sugars came from beverages.
  • More added-sugar calories are eaten at home than out.

Added Sugars: Some Progress

In a previous report, other CDC researchers found that from 1999 to 2000, children 12 to 17 ate about 22% of their total calories from added sugar, Ogden says. In the new report, Ogden looked at teens 12 to 19. Boys in this age range got 17.5% of their calories from added sugars; girls, 16.6%.

Industry Responds

A statement from the American Beverage Association accentuates that more added sugars come from food than beverages.

“Our industry provides consumers with more choices, smaller portions, and fewer calories than ever before. In fact, the development of more low- and no-calorie beverages has helped drive a 23% reduction in the average calories per serving since 1998.

“And while beverage calories continued to decline during that time, obesity rates continued to climb, according to CDC. This CDC data brief makes two things clear -- beverages do not uniquely contribute to obesity, and they are not the leading source of added sugar calories in the diet of American children and adolescents,” the statement reads.

Added Sugars: Perspective

"The amount of sugar consumed is still extraordinarily high," says Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. He has proposed that sugar be regulated. He reviewed the report findings for WebMD.

He notes that the amount of added sugar eaten by the 6- to 11-year-olds was not much different than that eaten by the 12- to 19-year-olds. That is a concern, he says, since the older children would need more calories overall, on average.

"The amount is still so far over what any rational physician, dietitian, or government agency would have us be eating," he says.

"It's still a major problem."

Added Sugars: Cut-Down Strategies

Parents can help their kids cut down on added sugar intake, says Paul Pestano, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group. He co-authored a recent report on sugary children's cereals.

"Try to limit processed foods," he says, "because that is mostly where it comes from."

On this list are kids' sugary cereals, granola bars, cookies, and candies. Jams and syrups can also have high amounts of added sugar, he says.

"If you are shopping for canned fruit, look for ones that are canned in water and not syrup or juice," he says.

Also, cut down on juice and soda.

Show Sources


National Center for Health Statistics: "Data Brief No. 87."

Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, epidemiologist, CDC National Center for Health Statistics.

Paul Pestano, research analyst, Environmental Working Group.

Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco.

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