Unhealthy habits can start young - infants, toddlers and added sugars

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

A newstudy in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that nearly two-thirds of infants (61 percent) and almost all toddlers (98 percent) consume added sugars in their average daily diets, primarily in the form of flavored yogurts (infants) and fruit drinks (toddlers). The analysis documented some good news, too. Over the study period, (2005-06 and 2015-16) the percentage of infants and toddlers whose daily diets include added sugars declined, as well as the amounts they consumed. Yet the widespread intake points to a serious and persistent problem: the early development of eating patterns associated with negative health conditions.  

The study was the first to examine trends in added sugar consumption among babies and toddlers, important, researchers said, because eating habits established early in life shape later eating patterns. An earlier study that found that 6-year-olds who had consumed any sugar-sweetened beverages before the age of one were more than twice as likely to consume a sweetened drinks at least once a day compared to 6-year-olds who had not consumed any before the age of one.

Many health organizations recommend limiting sugar intake to 9 teaspoons or less for adult men, and 6 teaspoons or less for adult women and children between 2 and 19. With no comparable research available for infants and toddlers prior to this study, only one organization, the American Heart Association, provided any guidance for children under age 2. 

Researchers analyzed data for 1,211 infants and toddlers, from 6-23 months.They found that most  infants consumed about 1 teaspoon of added sugars daily, while toddlers consumed about 6. 

Yogurt, baby snacks, sweets, bakery products, fruit drinks and candy are the top sources of added sugars, they found.

Dr. Kirsten Herrick, who led the study, said parents should be mindful of added sugars levels in the foods chosen when weaning infants. 

"The transition from a milk-based diet (breast milk and formula) to table foods has an impact on nutrition, taste preference, and eating patterns," she said.

She recommends discussing which solid foods to introduce during weaning with a child's healthcare provider and pointed to the Nutrition Facts label as another resource to support informed decisions. 

Beginning in 2020, added sugar content is required to be on all food and drink nutrition labels.