The American Heart Association recommends children and teens consume less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugar per day.
Consuming foods and beverages high in added sugars during childhood is linked to the development of risk factors for heart disease, including an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure.
In a scientific statement published in Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children ages two to 18 should limit their added sugar consumption to less than six teaspoons (25 grams) per day, and sugary beverages should be limited to no more than eight ounces per week.  Sugary drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, and a 20-ounce bottle of soda alone can include upwards of 16 teaspoons of added sugar. According to the AHA statement, children under the age of two should not consume any foods or beverages with added sugars.
“There is clear evidence that added sugars, especially sugary beverages, contribute to obesity and other metabolic problems,” says Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. “The AHA’s recommendation to limit added sugar intake for children is an important strategy to improve children’s diet and overall health. Schools, parents, health professionals, and policy makers should work together to help children develop healthier eating and drinking habits at early age.”
The recommendations are based on a review of available evidence examining the cardiovascular health impacts of added sugars on children, including effects on blood pressure, lipids, insulin resistance and diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and obesity. Associations between added sugars and increased heart disease risk factors among US youth were found to be present at levels far below current consumption. The AHA has previously recommended limits of six and nine teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and men, respectively.
Added sugars refer to any sugar—including table sugar, fructose, honey, and agave—consumed on its own, added to foods at home, or used in processing or preparing foods and drinks. The association’s recommendation for children comes ahead of the rollout of the updated Nutrition Facts Panel, which will differentiate between “added sugars” and naturally occurring sugars.
A good strategy for limiting added sugar is a diet rich in minimally-processed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, and healthy fats, and choosing water over sugary drinks and juices. Use the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate as a guide, and spark a discussion with your child using the Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate.
- Vos MB, et al. Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children. Circulation. 2016; CIR.0000000000000439, published online before print August 22, 2016.