New 'no sugar before age 2' guidelines are already being mocked

Jan. 6, 2021

Most parents worry about their kids eating too many sweets, but new dietary guidelines put forth by the U.S. government may go too far for even the most health conscious moms and dads. The new recommendations for infants and toddlers call for a hard limit on sugar that, if followed, could spell the end of first birthday cakes, juice and treats from grandma.

The guidelines, which were created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), suggest avoiding all added sugars in kids’ food until they’re at least 2 years old. After age 2, it’s recommended that less than 10% of total daily calories should come from added sugar. 

Other recommendations include more standard rules we’ve all seen before, such as feeding babies only breast milk or iron-fortified formula for the first six months of life and introducing “nutrient dense complementary foods” thereafter. 

While no one is arguing for giving kids unlimited candy and soda for every meal, many parents find the focus on banning sugar to be unreasonable. In the discussion on the CBS News Facebook page, parents criticized the rules around sugar as being overly rigid and unrealistic.

“No one is going to tell me that my grandchildren can’t have cakes or sweets,” one person writes. 

Another says it’s ridiculous to expect young kids to never have treats, especially during special occasions. “So, for first birthdays we're supposed to do what?“ they write. “Give them a piece of broccoli? Or maybe a ‘sugar-free’ cake that's full of chemicals? Nope. Let that baby have their smash cake, and enjoy!”

One person also points out that not everyone lives somewhere with access to healthy, sugar-free foods. “Guidelines are great, and if you have the income, you can do it,” they explain. “If you live in a food desert you end up eating what’s available, what fills you up and what’s cheap.”

Others are reminding the naysayers that a guideline or recommendation is not the same thing as a mandate. Parents can still choose to feed their kids whatever they want, regardless of what any agency advises. “Dietary guidelines are NOT a new concept,” one person writes. “Calm down. They are just that: guidelines. It doesn't say the military is going to storm your house and remove all your sugar.”

The average child gets about 17% of their calories from sugar each day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). About half of that comes from sugary drinks, like juice, soda or sports drinks. They’re also getting added sugar from unexpected sources, like ketchup and dressings, dried fruits, cereals and other snacks. Both the AAP and the American Heart Association recommended avoiding sugar for kids under 2 in 2016, long before the new U.S. dietary guidelines were complete. They also recommend limiting sugar to six teaspoons per day for kids over 2. 

The concern is that too much sugar consumption over time can put kids at risk for unhealthy weight gain, tooth decay, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Plus, as the guidelines by the USDA and DHHS explain, “Early food preferences influence food and beverage choices late, and the science has evolved to focus on the importance of a healthy dietary pattern over time.”

Ultimately, it’s still up to each parent to decide what ends up in their child’s sippy cup or on their plate. At the very least, these guidelines are a good reminder to look at the big picture of kids’ overall health and diet and to do our best to offer them the widest possible range of yummy and nutritious foods — whether or not they still get the occasional cookie at grandma’s.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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