Students should consume no more than 25 g (6 tsp.) of added sugar per day, recommends the American Heart Association (AHA 2016).
“Added sugars contribute to a diet that is energy dense but nutrient poor, and increase risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers, and dental [cavities],” the recommendation says (AHA 2016).
The AHA’s recommendation is timely. A total of 29.9% of high school students are overweight or obese, according to a nationwide survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2016).
The 2015 survey of more than 15,000 students in grades 9–12 found that 13.9% of high school students were obese, and 16% were overweight (CDC 2016). In 1999, those percentages were 10.6% and 14.1%, respectively. For states surveyed, the 2015 obesity rates ranged from 10.3% in Montana to 18.9% in Mississippi. Overweight rates ranged from 13.3% in Missouri to 18.2% in South Carolina.
Added sugars are defined as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table,” the recommendation says. “Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, both of which are made up of glucose and fructose… are the most commonly added sugars in the U.S. food supply.” Added sugars do not include “naturally occurring sugars … that are an innate component of foods (e.g., fructose in fruits and vegetables and lactose in milk and other dairy products)” (AHA 2016).
It will soon be easier to keep track of added sugar in packaged foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently changed the requirements of Nutrition Facts labels “to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease” (FDA 2016). Starting in July 2018, manufacturers will be required to list the grams of total sugars, grams of added sugars, and the Percent Daily Value for both.
Have students track all of the added sugar in foods and drinks they consume for one week. For the second week, they should try to consume no more than 25 g of sugar per day.
Students should check Nutrition Facts labels on foods and beverages to find added sugar amounts and look for these other terms for added sugar, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov (2016): anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane juice, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, dextrose, evaporated corn sweetener, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, invert sugar, lactose, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectars (fruit nectar, peach nectar, pear nectar, etc.), pancake syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar cane juice, and white granulated sugar.
When Nutrition Facts labels are not available or added sugars aren’t listed, students can use an online tool (see “On the web”) to find the amount of added sugar. After the second week, students can review their findings and write an essay about how well they adhered to the recommendation and the challenges they faced.
For another classroom activity on dietary sugar, read the September 2012 Health Wise column “Fight Obesity in the Classroom” (Bratsis 2012).
Michael E. Bratsis is senior editor for Kids Health in the Classroom (kidshealth.org/classroom). Send comments, questions or suggestions to email@example.com.
Food Labels: www.teenshealth.org/en/teens/food-labels.html
Staying at a Healthy Weight: www.teenshealth.org/en/teens/healthy-weight.html
5 Ways to Reach a Healthy Weight: www.teenshealth.org/en/teens/weight-tips.html
Sugar science: www.sugarscience.org
American Heart Association (AHA). 2016. Added sugars and cardiovascular disease risk in children: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. http://bit.ly/2d5pprv
Bratsis, M.E. 2012. Health Wise: Fight obesity in the classroom. The Science Teacher 79 (6): 68–69. http://bit.ly/2dHadjg
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2016. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2015.
ChooseMyPlate.gov. 2016. What are added sugars? www.choosemyplate.gov/what-are-added-sugars
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2016. Changes to the nutrition facts label. http://bit.ly/1obiyXp
This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).
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