New Dietary Guidelines say no to sweets for kids under 2 as overweight, obesity rates soar in US

Dietary Guidelines
Cover art for the 2020 - 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. |

New Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025 released by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services included recommendations for infants and toddlers for the first time since 1985, urging parents to avoid candy, cake and other added sugars for children under age 2 as obesity rates remain problematic.

“For the first time since the 1985 edition, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines includes recommendations for infants and toddlers as well as continuing the emphasis on healthy dietary patterns during pregnancy and lactation. This approach recognizes that each life stage is distinct—nutrient needs vary over the lifespan and each life stage has unique implications for food and beverage choices and disease risk,” experts wrote in the new published guidelines.

Among the top sources of added sugars for the U.S. population age 1 and older, the guide lists sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks like cake and candy. Parents, the guidelines suggest, should try to avoid added sugars.

“Infants and young children have virtually no room in their diet for added sugars. This is because the nutrient requirements for infants and young children are quite high relative to their size, but the amount of complementary foods they consume is small. Complementary foods need to be nutrient-dense and not contain additional calories from added sugars,” the nutrition experts explained.

“In addition, low- and no-calorie sweeteners, which can also be called high-intensity sweeteners, are not recommended for children younger than age 2. Taste preferences are being formed during this time period, and infants and young children may develop preferences for overly sweet foods if introduced to very sweet foods during this timeframe,” they added.

The experts said the nutrition recommendation for infants and toddlers is important because about one-third of infants in the U.S. are introduced to complementary foods and beverages before age 4 months. Early introduction of complementary foods and beverages was also found to be higher among infants receiving infant formula or a combination of infant formula and human milk than among infants exclusively fed human milk.

It is also recommended that infants be fed only breast milk for the first six months. If that isn’t possible, the experts suggest they be fed with iron-fortified infant formula during the first 12 months along with vitamin D supplements.

The new dietary guidelines come in the wake of data from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showing that more than 73% of American adults are classified as either overweight or obese.  

About 42% of American adults had obesity in 2017-2018, according to the data. Among adults ages 20 and older, 42.4% were identified as having a body mass index of 30 or higher, while 9.2% had severe obesity, defined as a BMI of 40 or higher, Cheryl Fryar of the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland, and colleagues said. Another 30.7% of American adults were overweight, with a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

Another report this month from the Congressional Research Service also pointed to the latest data on American obesity and called it a “substantial obstacle for military recruitment.”

“The high and rising prevalence of obesity in the United States represents a substantial obstacle for military recruitment. Obesity is one of the leading medical reasons that young adults are disqualified from joining the military, and has been an issue for military recruitment for over 30 years,” the report said.

Further analysis of the 2017–2018 data published by the CDC show that just under 10% of infants and children under age 2 had excess weight.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are published every five years, provide science-based recommendations designed to foster healthy dietary patterns for Americans of all ages — from birth through older adults.

“At USDA and HHS, we work to serve the American people — to help every American thrive and live healthier lives through access to healthy foods and providing nutrition recommendations,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement Tuesday. “With the release of the dietary guidelines, we have taken the very important step to provide nutrition guidance that can help all Americans lead healthier lives by making every bite count.”

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