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Are sugary foods putting your children at risk for heart disease?

Posted 4/1/2018 by Andrew Dodgen, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Chocolate lava cake. Apple pie. Oatmeal raisin cookies. Is your mouth watering yet? Most of us love the taste of sugary food and kids are no exception.

Sugar falling from a loaded spoon

Yet, it’s no secret that these foods are not the healthiest choices. Sugar adds calories to foods without providing the nutrients your body needs. These are called “empty calories.” “Studies show that a diet high in sugar can cause health problems, such as dental cavities, obesity and diabetes,” explains Andrew Dodgen, MD, a Pediatric Cardiologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Experts now believe it may also cause heart disease.”

New guidelines on sugar

These concerns have led the American Heart Association (AHA) to release new guidelines on the amounts of sugar children should consume. The AHA now recommends:

  • Children younger than age 2 should avoid any added sugars.
  • Children ages 2 and older should limit sugar to 25 grams a day or less. That’s about 6 teaspoons each day.
  • Children and teens should limit soda and other sugary drinks to just one 8-ounce serving a week.

This means most kids will need to cut back on sugar intake. On average, U.S. children now consume about 80 grams of sugar a day.

Watch out for added sugars

Andrew Dodgen, MD

Andrew Dodgen, MD

Added sugars are those that don’t naturally occur in foods. They are often used to make prepared or processed foods. The AHA found that kids got equal amounts of added sugars from food and drinks. The most common added sugars for kids were in soda, sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, cakes and cookies.

How to cut back

Studies show that kids eat the most sugary foods at home, not while they’re out. You can help your children cut back on sugar by following a few tips from Dr. Dodgen:

  • Read labels and buy products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Check labels on foods you buy to see if they contain sugar. You might be surprised at what you find. Sugar is added to many foods you might not expect, such as pasta sauce, ketchup, crackers and pizza. Keep in mind, ingredients are listed in order by quantity, so the higher sugar appears on the list, the more that product contains.
  • Be aware of sugar’s other names. These include high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey or fruit juice concentrates.
  • Skip the soda. Try serving water or low-fat milk instead of soda or other sugary drinks.
  • Choose fruit for dessert. Most kids love the taste of fresh fruit. You can also buy canned or frozen – just check the labels to make sure there’s no sugar added.
  • Skip sugary cereals. Opt for unsweetened cereals instead, and add fruit to sweeten it.
Infographic: Healthy Kids Are Sweet Enough

To learn more about this topic, visit for tips from the American Heart Association.

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