Toddlers Snack

Toddler Diets: Sugar Down, Obesity Up, Now What?

Toddler diets can’t seem to fall in line with dietary guidelines. About 98 percent of toddlers are eating added sugar! That’s the headline in the New York Times today on a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In that same article, the Times buried the fact that added sugar consumption is declining. In fact, over the last decade consumption of added sugar was down 43 percent in infants. For toddlers, the drop was 22 percent.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of obesity among preschoolers rose by 28 percent during that same period.

Yogurt, Fruit Drinks & Baked Snacks

The number one source of added sugars for infants is yogurt. We’re not surprised. Have you ever tried to feed plain yogurt to a baby? Everyone winds up wearing it. None of it goes into the baby.

But for toddlers, the source shifts. They’re getting more fruit drinks, which really isn’t such a great idea. Water or milk is just fine. Just about every professional organization recently agreed. Kids don’t need sweet drinks. After fruit drinks, the top source of added sugar for toddlers is sweet bakery products.

Declining Sugar Consumption

U.S. Sugar Intake from Beverages and Other SourcesAdded sugar consumption is dropping, and not only for infants and toddlers. Bernadette Marriott and colleagues recently found that sugar intake for all age groups in the U.S. is down. It’s down overall. It is also down as a percentage of calories from sugar. Sugar-sweetened beverages are down, too.

The trend is not confined to the U.S., either. For example, Ines Perrar and colleagues found declining sugar consumption for children and teens in Germany. They did, however, note that even with these declines, sugar consumption is higher than the World Health Organization recommends.

Good, Bad, or Inadequate?

The headlines coming from the latest study in JAND offer up a very clear perspective. Bad habits start young. Infants and toddlers are eating too much added sugar. Fair enough. Sweet drinks, including juices, aren’t helpful. Added sugar clearly promotes poor dental health. Eating too many sweet treats has never been a good idea.

But if we’re counting on cutting sugar to overcome obesity, disappointment seems inevitable. Upward obesity trends are still stubborn, even after more than a decade of declining sugar consumption. The excess of obesity, growing around the world, comes from more than just too much sugar.

Click here for the study by Kirsten Herrick et al in JAND. For more on this study, click here and here.

Toddlers Snack, photograph © Donnie Ray Jones / flickr

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November 15, 2019

5 Responses to “Toddler Diets: Sugar Down, Obesity Up, Now What?”

  1. November 15, 2019 at 9:01 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Continued robust research on epigenetics, especially re: women, pre- and during pregnancy, and how it affects infant and childhood obesity, may be very helpful. Meanwhile, it would behoove HCPs to give women of childbearing ages, all over the world, lots of support to eat as nutritiously as possible, to stay physically active, to get the medical care and monitoring needed to manage weight/adiposity, both pre- and during pregnancy.

  2. November 15, 2019 at 9:17 am, Kelsie said:

    I would encourage caregivers to give their littles plain yogurt, you would be surprised what they enjoy at that age before they know how sweet yogurt can sometimes be. My daughter really liked it for the first year or 2 until she realized what her parents were eating instead :). I don’t love it, but at least you can add your own sweetener and have more control over the added sugars that way. It really is a fight to try to reduce added sugars with kiddos, so I just encourage everyone to try low/no sugar versions of things first before assuming kids won’t like them.

  3. November 15, 2019 at 7:56 pm, Chester Draws said:

    Unfortunately, the prevalence of obesity among preschoolers rose by 28 percent during that same period.

    Is there a citation for that?

    Most studies purportedly showing the prevalence of obesity do no such thing. They take a dodgy proxy measurement, often BMI, and use that. Not taking into account any changes in other features (such as height in adults, given that BMI is exaggerated for tall people, and we’re getting taller) and claiming it shows “obesity”.

    • November 16, 2019 at 3:10 am, Ted said:

      Skinner, Asheley Cockrell, et al. “Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in US children, 1999–2016.” Pediatrics 141.3 (2018): e20173459.

  4. November 17, 2019 at 7:41 am, Susan Burke March said:

    While sugar consumption may be down, artificial sweetener consumption is way up. I know there’s research examining AS consumption and its effect on the human microbiome and the possible link to obesity. Another variable to consider.