News Release: Research

Jan. 10,  2011

Teens + Sugars = Increased Heart Disease Risk Later in Life?

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ATLANTA – According to an Emory University study, teenagers with high sugar diets may be in store for heart problems as adults.  

A study published in the Jan. 10 online issue of the journal Circulation finds teens who consume elevated amounts of added sugars in drinks and foods are more likely to have poor cholesterol and triglyceride profiles now which may lead to heart disease later in life.  

The study also finds that overweight or obese teens with the highest levels of added sugar intake had increased signs of insulin resistance, often a precursor to diabetes.  

According to the American Heart Association, “added sugars” are any caloric sweeteners added to foods or beverages in the manufacturing process or by the consumer.  

“Adolescents are eating 20 percent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,” says Jean Welsh, MPH, PhD, RN, study author and post-doctoral fellow in pediatric nutrition at Emory University School of Medicine. “We know from previous studies the biggest contributors of added sugars to the diet are sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas”   

This is the first study to assess the association of added sugars and the indicators of heart disease risk in adolescents, Welsh says.  

Study Details:

  • The National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) of 2,157 teenagers (ages 12 to 18) found the average daily consumption of added sugars was 119 grams (28.3 tsp. or 476 calories), accounting for 21.4 percent of their total energy.  
  • Teens consuming the highest levels of added sugars had lower levels of high- density lipoprotein levels (HDL), the good cholesterol, and higher levels of triglycerides and low density lipoproteins (LDL), the bad cholesterol.  
  • Teenagers with the highest levels of added sugar consumption at more than 30 percent of total energy had 49.5 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) compared to 54 mg/dL of HDL levels in those with the lowest levels of added sugar consumption — a 9 percent difference.  
  • The study included dietary recall from one 24-hour period that researchers merged with sugar content data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture My Pyramid Equivalents Databases. Researchers estimated cardiovascular risk by added sugar consumption of less than 10 percent up to more than 30 percent of daily total energy. 
  • Two days of dietary data were used among a subsample of 646 adolescents and the key findings remained consistent:
    • Those with higher intake of added sugar had higher LDL levels of 94.3 mg/dL compared to 86.7 in those with the lowest levels, a 9 percent difference.

    • Triglyceride levels in those with the highest consumption were 79 mg/dL compared to 71.7 mg/dL among the lowest, a 10 percent difference.

    • Overweight or obese adolescents with the highest level of added sugar consumption had increased signs of insulin resistance.

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