Excessive intake of sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices that offer no nutritional value other than calories to the diet of teenagers can elevate their risk of heart disease in later life, claims a new study. According to health experts, there is growing evidence of the link between excess sugar consumption among youngsters and a number of health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, elevated triglycerides that are considered markers for heart disease. Lead author of the study, Jean Welsh, post-doctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta stated, “We need to be aware of sugar consumption. “It’s a significant contributor of calories to our diet and there are these associations that may prove to be very negative. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and sodas are the major contributor of added sugar and are a major source of calories without other important nutrients. “Parents and adolescents need to become aware of the amount of added sugar they are consuming and be aware that there may be some negative health implications if not now, then down the line.”
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations, a teenager who requires 2,200 calories may have an upper limit of 150 calories from added sugar while someone with an energy requirement of 1,800 calories per day should limit added sugar to 100 calories. However, the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) of 2,157 teenagers aged 12 to 18 years found that the average teenager consumes close to 500 calories added sugars each day. “Adolescents are eating 20 per cent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,” said Jean Welsh.
In order to get an insight into the impact of high sugar consumption in adolescence on the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life the researchers studied 646 teenagers. For the purpose of the study, they analyzed the 24-hour dietary recall by teens with data from the US Department of Agriculture on sugar content in foods. It was noted that the teens’ average daily consumption of added sugars was three to five times higher that the limit acceptable by the AHA.
The study found, that teens who consumed 30 percent or more of total calories from added sugars exhibited lower levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, compared to those who ate less than 10 percent of added sugar. In addition, it was observed that obese and overweight teenagers who consumed more sugar also had the most insulin resistance.
Although the study hints at a possible association between added sugar intake and poor cholesterol profiles as well as other heart disease risk factors, researchers feel there is need for more research to substantiate the findings. Welsh stated, “We need controlled studies to really understand the role of added sugars in cardiovascular disease. But it is important to be aware of the added sugar in the foods we all eat.”
The study is published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal ‘Circulation.’
Teens whose diets include lots of sugary drinks and foods show physical signs that they are at increased risk for heart disease as adults, researchers from Emory University report. Among 2,157 teens who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average amount of added sugar eaten in a day was 119 grams (476 calories), which was 21.4 percent of all the calories these teens consumed daily, the researchers noted. “We need to be aware of sugar consumption,” said lead researcher and postdoctoral fellow Jean Welsh. “It's a significant contributor of calories to our diet and there are these associations that may prove to be very negative,” she said. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and sodas are the major contributor of added sugar and are a major source of calories without other important nutrients.” Awareness of the negative effects of added sugar may help people, particularly teens, cut down on the amount of sugar they consume, Welsh added. “Parents and adolescents need to become aware of the amount of added sugar they are consuming and be aware that there may be some negative health implications if not now, then down the line,” she said.
The report is published in the Jan. 10 online edition of Circulation.
Welsh's team found that teens who consumed the most added sugar had 9 percent higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and 10 percent higher triglyceride levels (another type of blood fat), compared with those who consumed the least added sugar. Teens who took in the highest amount of added sugar also had lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol than those who consumed the least amount of added sugar. In addition, teens who consumed the highest amount of added sugar showed signs of insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and its associated risk of heart disease, the researchers found.
The American Heart Association has recommended an upper limit for added sugars intake, based on the number of calories you need. “Most American women [teens included] should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day; most men, no more than 150 calories,” the association states.
One caveat to these findings is that because of the way the study was done it is not clear if added sugars caused the differing cholesterol levels, only that they are linked. In addition, the data are only for one day and may not reflect the teen's usual diet, the researchers noted. Commenting on the study, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that “this study does not prove that dietary sugar is a cardiac risk factor in this population, but it strongly suggests it.”
The paper has three important messages, he said. First, dietary sugar intake in a representative population of teenagers is nearly double the recommended level. Second, the higher the intake of sugar, the greater the signs of cardiac risk, including elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Third, the apparent harms of excess sugar are greater in overweight than in lean adolescents.
“Sugar is by no means the sole dietary threat to the health of adolescents, or adults,” Katz said. “But we now have evidence it certainly counts among the important threats to both. Reducing sugar intake by adolescents, to prevent them becoming adults with diabetes or heart disease, is a legitimate priority in public health nutrition,” he said.
SOURCES: HealthDay; Jean Welsh, M.P.H., Ph.D., R.N., postdoctoral fellow, Emory University, Atlanta; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Jan. 10, 2011, Circulation, online