October 27, 2014

Scary Halloween Secret: Sugary Splurge Is Daily Event for U.S. Kids

What’s really scary this Halloween? New evidence that what used to be an annual sugar splurge has become a daily routine for the nation’s children. An infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) highlights the truly frightening amount of sugar consumed, on average, by America’s kids.

The infographic relies on data from a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showing that in 2009-2010, kids between the ages of two and 19 ate an average of 124 grams, or 29 teaspoons, of sugar daily. Even scarier, teenage boys (age 12-19) consumed a whopping 32.2 teaspoons of sugar daily – that’s more than three-quarters of a cup. UCS did the math: teenage boys are eating the equivalent of 18 “fun size” candies every day.

“When Halloween is every day, the future of our children is at risk,” said Daniel Brito, senior Washington representative with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “And it’s not just that kids are eating too much sugar-laden junk foods. They’re also falling far short on foods like fruits and vegetables that are important for long-term good health. If something doesn’t give, we’re setting our children up for a future rife with serious illness.”

The infographic echoes a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that American adults and children are consuming too much sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables, particularly dark green and orange veggies. The federal government recommends that Americans fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. And in 2010, Congress passed legislation that improved the nutritional standards for school lunches. Though these standards were a good start, too many kids are still eating poorly.

Congress is expected to reauthorize the taxpayer-subsidized school lunch program in 2015. But already this year, the House of Representatives has threatened to roll back the 2010 standards. Advocates for weakening school lunch standards have signaled their intention to revisit this issue when Congress reconvenes after the midterm elections.

Dietary patterns are established during childhood and continue into adulthood. With poor diets linked to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes in adults, what kids eat today is critical to their future health. In particular, taxpayer-supported initiatives like the school lunch program should invest in healthy foods, not junk. 

“Bringing our children down from their sugar high will require more fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods that are chock full of sugar,” said Brito. “The school lunch program is an important way to make this a reality, but Congress must maintain and strengthen the 2010 standards, not roll them back.”

For questions or to schedule an interview with Brito, please contact Sarah Goldberg at 202-331-6943 or sgoldberg@ucsusa.org.