Are you setting your child up for heart disease down the road? - Cape Cod Healthcare

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Published on May 21, 2019

Are you setting your child up for heart disease down the road?


A new statement from the American Heart Association advises kids from age two to 18 to eat and drink no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day. More than that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease — even in children.

Six teaspoons of added sugar, or the daily max, is found in:

* About one cup of vanilla ice cream

* About two cups of Lucky Charms Cereal

* Roughly one regular chocolate bar

Children ages two and under shouldn’t consume any added sugars, according to the advisory.

How can we achieve the sweet spot for sugar consumption? Cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, said it all begins with parents starting children out with heart-healthy diets that focus on natural rather than added sugars. Dr. Thompson is with Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiovascular Center and is Medical Director of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, a partnership between Cape Cod Healthcare and Cape Cod National Seashore.

Natural sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at your kitchen table. According to the American Heart Association, added sugars contribute zero nutrients but many added calories that can lead to extra pounds or even obesity, thereby impacting heart health.

“If your mom gave you sugary drinks as a baby, you’re going to grow up thinking that’s the way to eat and drink. The early introduction of added sugars is a problem because it encourages children to prefer sweets and make poor dietary choices throughout their lives,” Dr. Thompson said.

Satisfying your sweet tooth can be as easy as grabbing an apple instead of a candy bar, or sparkling water instead of a soda.

Six Teaspoons a Day

The American Heart Association’s new study reinforces what doctors have been telling patients for years: There is consistent evidence that cardiovascular risk increases as added sugar consumption increases, said Dr. Thompson. Very low consumption (less than six teaspoons per day for children and women, less than nine teaspoons for men) is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk indicators.

Children across the general population are presenting with more hypertension, diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol and hypertriglyceridemia (high levels of triglycerides, or fatty molecules, put people at risk for cardiovascular disease), she said.

“When I went to school, you couldn’t buy soda. You had two choices. You could drink milk or water,” Dr. Thompson said.

“One of the things the study focused on is sugary drinks. Today, most American children get almost half of their added sugar from sugary drinks with no nutritional benefit whatsoever,” she said. “So one of the things doctors have been recommending for more than a decade is to limit the amount of sugary drinks that babies, toddlers, children and adolescents consume.”

Ideally four percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars, but the typical American adolescent is consuming about 16.1 percent, which is four times the recommended amount of added sugars, according to the study.

“You are more likely to continue eating added sugars if you start as a child,” Dr. Thompson said. “You can radically change the trajectory of your health by doing very small things, and avoiding added sugar is one of them.”

Infographic available here, along with many other infographics on added sugar.