There has been a lot of fretting lately about just how much sugar we're all consuming, but we are particularly freaked out about what our kids are eating. Well, now it turns out we're right to worry because they are eating a shit-ton of sugar every day. Why? Well, for the same reason we grown-ups do: because having chocolate-covered cereal for breakfast is a lot more appealing than having sautéed vegetables and egg whites. And its hard to resist when it's coming at you from all sides, not just in candy and sodas but in everything else too.
Just how bad is this problem? According to data just released from the National Center for Health Statistics (which is part of the CDC), kids are eating an average of 322 calories of added sugar a day, which makes up about 16 percent of their daily caloric intake. Whoa. Boys eat an average of 362 calories of it per day; whereas girls only take in an average of 282 calories.
When we talk about added sugars, that includes table sugar and things like maple syrup, but also sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and other caloric sweeteners that are used in processed foods and drinks. It does not include the natural sugars that occur in fruit and 100 percent fruit juice.
So where are kids getting their whopping doses of sugar from? Well, 59 percent of it is from food and 41 percent from beverages. No surprise, soft drinks are the biggest single source of added sugars. But epidemiologist Cynthia Ogden, lead author of the report, says its important to be mindful that sugar is in almost everything kids eat:
Soda consumption is high, but we shouldn't lose sight of the added sugars in foods such as muffins, cookies, sugar-sweetened cereals and pasta sauces. Many processed foods have added sugars. Those foods contribute more than the beverages.
As much as it's tempting to blame this problem on kids eating junk at school while not under the watchful eye of their parents, in fact that is not the case. It turns out 63 percent of the sugar calories kids eat are consumed at home.
Excess sugar, of course, is bad for your health at any age, since it's been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—a fact which has become ever more clear in the past few years. And that raises an interesting question about this study. This data was collected in interviews with children and their parents from 2005 to 2008. Since attitudes toward and awareness of added sugar has shifted dramatically even since 2008, it's possible that the calories children consume have already been reduced somewhat.
In any case, the American Heart Association recommends that adults limit their sugar consumption to between 100 and 150 calories per day—which is half what the average child is consuming, and theoretically they should eat even less because they are smaller. So there's probably still a lot of room for improvement. Some people have talked about regulating our consumption, but until that happens, it looks like we're going to have to take care of this problem ourselves. Sorry kids (and mom and dad), it looks like the days of unlimited muffins and cocoa puffs for breakfast have sadly come to an end. Can I interest you in a delicious kale and lentil patty instead?
Image via Giuseppe_R/Shutterstock.