Teen Diets High in Added Sugar Can Raise Heart Disease Risk

Teens who consume a lot of added sugar and sweeteners in their food and drinks increase their chances of developing heart disease in adulthood, according to a new study.

Teens that had the highest intake of sugars and sweeteners had lower "good" cholesterol and higher "bad" cholesterol than teens with lower sugar intakes, the study showed.

The survey of 2,157 teenagers found they take in 119 grams — about 28 teaspoons — of added sugar every day, on average. This amount is equivalent to two 16-ounce soft drinks and one candy bar, and accounts for 476 calories of added sugar every day, or about 21 percent of their total energy intake, according to the study, said study researcher Jean A. Welsh, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University in Atlanta.

Sweet things are no longer considered to be treats, Welsh said. It's imperative to make "people aware that a diet high in added sugars may have negative health consequences," she told MyHealthNewsDaily.

That amount of sugar is four to five times the limit on calories from added sugar recommended by the American Heart Association, which advises that someone with an energy requirement of 1,800 calories a day (typical of a teenage girl) consume no more than 100 calories from added sugars. Someone with a requirement of 2,200 calories a day should consume no more than 150 calories from added sugar, according to the AHA.

"Higher added sugars is associated with measures of heart disease risk among teens," Welsh said. "Long term studies will be needed to better understand the impact of added sugars over time."

The researchers found that a group of teens who consumed the highest amounts of added sugars had the lowest levels of "good" HDL cholesterol — they had 49.5 milligrams per deciliter of blood, compared with 54 milligrams per deciliter in teens who consumed the lowest amounts of added sugars.

Teens who consumed the most added sugar also had 9 percent higher levels of bad LDL cholesterol than the teens who consumed the least sugar: 94.3 milligrams per deciliter versus 86.7 milligrams per deciliter.

There was also a 10 percent difference in the triglyceride levels between those who consumed the most added sugar and those who consumed the least.

Welsh and her colleagues asked the teens in the study to recall how much sugar they consumed over a 24-hour period. Although the researchers didn't follow the teens into adulthood, previous work has shown that teens with the highest levels of bad cholesterol and lowest levels of good cholesterol, coupled with high levels of triglycerides, face an increased risk of developing heart disease in the future.

Past research has shown that added sugars come mostly from soda, fruit drinks, coffee and tea, Welsh said.

"As sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest contributor of added sugars in the diet of teens, reducing their consumption is one way that added sugars can be reduced," Welsh said. "Another way is for teens to use food labels to identify those foods that they consume regularly that are high in sugars and reduce those."

The study was published in the Jan. 10 issue of the journal Circulation.

Pass it on: Teens who consume the most sugar face an increased risk of heart diseases as adults.

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Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.