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March 01, 2012 11:51 AM Added Sugars Are a Big Deal

By Aaron Carroll

As I continue my three month weight-loss kick, I could not help but be interested in a study from the CDC, Consumption of added sugar among U.S. children and adolescents, 2005-2008. Let’s start with a definition of “added sugars”:

Added sugars include all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table. Examples of added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose, and dextrin.

So let’s own that these are added ingredients, specifically sugar. It’s not glucose that’s normally in food. The question is, how many calories of added sugar are kids eating?

The average boy is getting 362 calories a day from added sugar. The average girl gets 282 calories from added sugar. And remember, this is the average. It’s very likely that a significant number of kids are getting way more than this. What percent of their calories come from added sugar?

For boys, it’s more than 16%. For girls, it’s more than 15%. Again, this is the average, so for many kids it’s much higher than that.

As we talk about how hard it is to combat obesity, it’s worth thinking about numbers like this once in a while. If we could get kids to give up half, not even all, of the added sugar in their diet, their overall calorie consumption would drop by 8%. They’d be dropping about 140-180 calories a day from their diet. And those calories are totally empty – they’re from added sugars they don’t need, and that won’t satiate them. When other research shows that reducing your caloric intake by 20 (yes, twenty) calories per day for three years could lead to an average weight loss of 2 pounds, making this small change could be a big deal.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]

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Aaron Carroll ,MD, is an associate professor of Pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine.
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