Guidelines not sugar-coated: Limits for children announced
In a statement featured in the journal Circulation, the AHA said that children and teens should limit sugar intake to no more than eight ounces weekly.
The association also wants to see children under the age of two avoid foods or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks, altogether.
Sugar consumption is as much of an issue in the US as it is in Europe. With the UK government recently publishing its childhood obesity strategy.
The recommendations by the AHA also call for the restriction of sugar as part of a movement to combat expanding waistlines and declining health.
Unhealthy eating practices during childhood have been a focus as unhealthy food consumed as a reward or to regulate emotions could be setting up a series of unhealthy eating habits that could impact on health in later life.
Such is the debate over recommended sugar intake, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has continually revised its guidelines from those set out in 2003, which recommended sugar intake be limited to less than 10% of total daily energy intake.
Its latest recommendation came in 2015, where it said a sugar intake of less than 5% of total energy intake per day would reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases such as weight gain and dental issues.
The team carried out a review of scientific literature and presented the challenges highlighted by these nutrition studies that were limited to original research, human studies and reviews up to November 2015.
Dietary data from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) 2009 to 2012 was also assessed.
“Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” said Dr Miriam Vos, lead author and nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia in the US.
“We believe the scientific evidence for our recommendations is strong and having a specific amount to target will significantly help parents and public health advocates provide the best nutrition possible for our children."
The findings did not make any reference to the consumption of artificial sweeteners due to the lack of research that looked into these sugar substitutes in the diets of children.
In addition, it could not be established whether the high sugar content in 100% fruit juices should cause the same concerns as beverages with added sugars.
"The release of the AHA's Scientific Statement on added sugars and kids is baffling," The Sugar Association stated.
"In a year where the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (ages 2 years and up) and the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) final labeling rule (ages 4 years and up) issued a 10% target for added sugars, the AHA is releasing their own vastly different recommendations."
"The AHA is recommending 6 teaspoons of added sugars for an active 16-18-year-old boy - this is just 3% of his calories. Where is the science to support this?"
"We all want kids to be healthy. But the added sugars dialogue has lost its scientific integrity. The AHA's recommendations contradict the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which historically has been the expert voice on children's diets."
Meanwhile, Europe’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) also thought that sugar’s benefits had been overlooked.
In providing advice for food and drink producers on reducing sugars they stated that sugars can add colour and sweetness, enhance other flavours, provide bulk and texture, and improve shelf-life by reducing available water and inhibiting growth of bacteria.
In some products, sugars are used to improve the palatability of fibre, wholemeal or bran, for instance.
“Sugar reduction is a major focus as consumers look increasingly closely at the sugars in their diets,” said FDF director general Ian Wright.
“This presents both challenges and opportunities. Recipe changes need to pass the consumer acceptance test to be successful, lasting and beneficial to consumer health.”
Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000439
“Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children.”
Authors: Miriam B. Vos et al.