The results of new research show that the average child in the UK consumes more than six teaspoons of free sugar every day, which far exceeds the recommended threshold of 25 grams and increases the risk of becoming overweight adults.
The data estimate that young children eat the equivalent of about eight lumps of sugar a day on average, with one in five children already at risk of being overweight.
Sugar, on the other hand, should only represent 5% of daily calorie intake of a child. But those between the ages of 4 and 10 get more than 13.5% (equivalent to 200 calories) of their energy from sugar.
If a child adheres to national guidelines, he or she will have eaten approximately 138 kg of sugar by the time he or she turns 18, but at the current rate, any future 18-year-old will reach this threshold much earlier.
The UK Health Service also reached this conclusion in 2019, and today another study has further highlighted the link between sugar consumption and risk of obesity among the little ones.
(Also read: This is what happens to children’s bodies by removing sugar from their diet in just 10 days)
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The new study, presented at European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, suggests that children in the UK start consuming free sugar from an early age, exceeding the maximum recommended amount for children aged 4 and over.
This study was conducted as part of SWEET, a research program funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020. In collaboration with 29 research partners, consumers and industries, SWEET examines the long-term benefits and risks of sweeteners for food in the context of public health and safety, obesity and sustainability.
The WHO also recommends that free sugar should not make up more than 10% of daily calories, with 5% or less as the recommended threshold; this corresponds to a maximum of 25 g (6 teaspoons) for children between 7 and 10 years.
This new analysis involved around 2,336 children in the UK. The data showed that more than a third of the 21-month-olds and at least 80% of the 7-year-olds exceed the recommended limit. Only 16% of young children and 1.5% of 7-year-olds met the parameters.
Importantly, the results indicate that most of the free sugar in children’s diets comes from fruit juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, cakes, pastries, and chocolate-based desserts.
Lisa Heggy, lead researcher in the study said:
Our results suggest that sugar-free consumption begins early in life and exceeds current recommendations. In addition, much of children’s daily sugar intake is hidden in packaged and ultra-processed foods, many of which are marketed as healthy. For example, a standard serving of breakfast cereals may contain up to 13 grams (3 teaspoons) of free sugar, and some yogurts may contain up to 15 grams (about 4 teaspoons). We need to ensure that children are encouraged to drink water instead of high-sugar-free drinks, in order to reduce the risk of childhood obesity and improve dental health as well as food choices.
Children in this way are more likely to become overweight adults, with the associated risk of developing serious health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
The authors conclude by emphasizing the need for further research to investigate the link between free sugar intake in childhood and the risk of obesity in old age.
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Source: European Congress on Obesity (ECO)
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