Health messages to reduce the amount of added sugars we consume are nothing new, and the amount of added sugar is now listed on most food labels. However, the recently released Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee marks the first time that added sugars are addressed for infants and toddlers younger than 2 years old. The recommendation is simple: no added sugars from any source.
Why is nutrition so important for infants and toddlers?
The first 24 months of life are a critical period for growth and brain development, which means that nutrition needs are higher than at any other time period. The timing and type of complementary foods influences nutritional status, growth and body composition, neurocognitive development, and various health outcomes, both short-term and long-term, including overweight or obesity, cardiovascular disease risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, bone health, risk of food allergies, and atopic diseases. After age 6 months, complementary foods are needed to ensure adequate nutrition and growth, and to expose infants to varied flavors, textures, and types of foods as they make the transition to family diets. Avoiding added sugars for infants and toddlers younger than age 2 years is important for several reasons:
- When infants and children fill up on foods with added sugar, they don’t eat enough nutrient-dense foods that are crucial for growth and development.
- There is some evidence that consuming added sugars early in life can lead to increased risk of overweight and obesity.
- Consuming added sugars when young sets up a lifetime preference for sweet foods which has implications for cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, overweight and obesity.
Food patterns and preferences are established early in life:
Research shows that the types of foods that toddlers eat greatly influences their food patterns and choices in later childhood as well as when they are adults. One study showed that the odds of consuming sugar sweetened beverages at least once per day was 2.2 times higher among 6-year-olds who had consumed any sugar sweetened beverages before age 1 year, compared with 6-year-olds who had never consumed sugar sweetened beverages before age 1 year. If we want to encourage toddlers to grow up enjoying a healthy diet that is low in added sugars, we need to start when they are young.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, CPT
- Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
- Park S., Pan L., Sherry B., Li R. The association of sugar-sweetened beverage intake during infancy with sugar-sweetened beverage intake at 6 years of age. Pediatrics. 2014; 134: S56-S62
- Herrick KA, Fryar CD, Hamner HC, Park S, Ogden CL. Added Sugars Intake among US Infants and Toddlers. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020 Jan;120(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2019.09.007. Epub 2019 Nov 14. PMID: 31735600; PMCID: PMC7512119.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.