With Tobacco, Alcohol and Salt locked in the crosshairs, the new public enemy number one seems to be sugar. A new report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) shows 16% of total daily caloric intake of children and adolescents coming from added sugar in foods and drinks. The recommended amount is no more than 15%, but includes fat, as well as sugar.

The report tracked consumption of children and teens from 2005 to 2008, and it seems that more of the calorie intake comes from sugar added to food, rather than drinks, which might seem surprising. The figures show 59% coming from foods and 41% coming from drinks. Consumption occurred more at home: fifty four percent for beverages and sixty six percent for foods, meaning that regular prepackaged super market foods, are at least as much to blame as restaurants and fast food retailers.

Breaking down the values between boys and girls, showed boys consuming more sugars and although girls had a lower calorific intake than boys, their overall consumption was similar. The sugar habit seems to be adopted later in life with preschoolers consuming less sugar than their older peers. Interestingly, the Mexican-American children and adolescents had a lower consumption of sugars than their Caucasian and Black counterparts, perhaps due to the home cooking and dietary traditions running stronger in Latin families.

Probably due to its low cost and wide spread appeal, sugar seems to be loved by all income classes alike, as researchers found little difference in intake based on the poverty income ratio.

Cynthia Ogden, senior author on the report and an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said:

“Soda consumption is high, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the added sugars in foods such as muffins, cookies, sugar-sweetened cereals and pasta sauces … Many processed foods have added sugars. Those foods contribute more than the beverages.”

A previous government report also by Ogden, showed that teens who drink soda, energy drinks and other sugary beverages taking on board around 327 calories a day from them alone. It’s of concern, as a diet high in pure sugars has been linked to an array of health issues from obesity to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and the problem is far from contained, with one third of children in the US, and around a fifth of children in other countries, such as France classified as obese.

Rachel Johnson, a spokeswoman for the heart association and a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont commented that a limit of 100 to 150 calories per day from added sugars should apply to children. She continues :

“I continue to be amazed at the added sugars that Americans are consuming … Added sugars do one of two things … they either displace nutritious foods in the diet or add empty calories. Most of us don’t have room in our diets for this many calories from added sugars.”

The findings are published in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and it is considered the benchmark for dietary habits, because the data is collected from more than 7000 direct interviews between 2005 and 2008.

The push against refined sugar consumption makes sense when you think into the genetics and history of the human existence and a new diet, known as the Caveman or Paleolithic diet, has been hitting the media lately. It advocates for a diet higher in protein and meat, with vegetables and fruits. It contains little refined sugars or processed cereals, which were simply not available to our ancestors. The theory that the human body is simply not designed to consume processed sugars seems to hold water when looking at all the ‘sugary’ health issues that are becoming clearer, as researchers gather more data.

To make matters clear, it’s worth considering that the average American now consumes some three pounds of sugar per week, against only 5 pounds per year, at the turn of the last century. It’s hardly surprising that the rates of chronic health issues, such as diabetes and cancer, are going through the roof, with this radical change of diet that has occurred. Imagine sitting three pounds of white sugar on the breakfast table of a Monday and spooning down nearly ½ a pound of it every morning. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the effects that might have on your health.

Written by Rupert Shepherd