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Mexican-American children eat less sugar than peers, says new study

You hear it all the time: Latinos are considered more likely to consume more sugar and fat than almost any other ethnic group.

However, a new study released today by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reveals that Mexican-American children and adolescents eat a smaller percent of calories from added sugars than their non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black peers.

The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to examine sugar consumption among US. children and adolescents from 2005 to 2008. The term “added sugars” includes white sugar, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, fructose sweetener and liquid fructose used in processed and prepared foods.

“We were interested in examining added sugar consumption in children because of the high level of childhood obesity in the United States,” says Cynthia Ogden, senior author of the report and an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “About 17 percent of children in the United States are obese and that motivated us to get a picture of added sugars consumption among children using the most recent data.”

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans currently recommends that added sugars and solid fats be limited to 5-15 percent of daily caloric intake.

The NCHS study found revealing differences between the percent of calories consumed by youth of different races. Mexican-American boys from 2 to 19 years of age consumed a smaller percent of total calories from added sugars (14.8 percent) than non-Hispanic white boys (17.2 percent).  The percent of calories consumed by non-Hispanic black boys fell between the two groups at 15.9 percent.

Mexican-American girls also consumed less added sugars than their peers, as 14 percent of their daily caloric intake was from added sugars. Non-Hispanic white girls consumed 16.1 percent of their total calories in added sugars and while the intake non-Hispanic black girls was measured at 15.9 percent.

“It certainly looks like there was a dramatic difference between Mexican-American girls and boys compared to the general population,” says Noel Chavez, a registered dietician and associate professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But added sugars consumption among the Latino community is still at the upper limit of what’s recommended.”

Researchers also found no difference in consumption of added sugars by income among children and adolescents. The study also reported that more sugar calories were consumed at home than away from the home. Food accounted for two-thirds of sugars calories consumed at home, while beverage consumption accounted for one-half of a child’s added sugar calories at home.

“My concern is that pre-packaged foods are usually the cheaper foods that Latino families gravitate towards to make their dollars stretch,” says Sylvia Leal-Castanon, an associate professor of pediatrics at UT Health Science Center San Antonio. “And unfortunately, anything packaged can have high amounts of added sugars. With all the warnings about beverages out there, Latino parents might be unaware of the danger of processed foods.”

So what’s the takeaway for Latino parents?

“I would tell parents to look at labels of foods like beverages, cookies, snacks and cereals to see what are the added fats and added sugars,” says Dr. Chavez. “The consumption of those treats should really be a once in a while thing – more than that can really contribute to poor health and weight gain.”

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