February 29/New York/USA Today-- Processed and packaged foods, not beverages, are the leading source of added sugar in children’s diets, new government data show.

The children are downing an average of 322 calories a day from added sugars, or about 16% of their daily calories. Boys consume 362 calories a day from them; girls, 282 calories.

The data from the National Center for Health Statistics show 59% of added-sugar calories come from foods and 41% from beverages. However, soft drinks are still the biggest single source of added sugars in children's diets.

Added sugars include table sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, molasses and other caloric sweeteners in prepared and processed foods and beverages, such as cakes, candy, cookies, muffins, soft drinks, jams, chocolates and ice cream. Not included in this analysis are sugars in fruit and 100% fruit juice.

Some 65% of calories from added sugars are consumed at home, the report says. There was no difference in percent of calories from added sugars based on income level.

"Soda consumption is high, but we shouldn't lose sight of the added sugars in foods such as muffins, cookies, sugar-sweetened cereals and pasta sauces," says Cynthia Ogden, senior author on the report and an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Many processed foods have added sugars. Those foods contribute more than the beverages."

An earlier government analysis by Ogden showed that teens who drink soda, energy drinks and other sugary beverages are guzzling about 327 calories a day from them, which is equal to about 2.5 cans of cola.

The American Heart Association advises that most women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it's 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

The limit of 100-150 calories a day from added sugars could apply to children, too, says Rachel Johnson, a spokeswoman for the heart association and a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont.

"I continue to be amazed at the added sugars that Americans are consuming," she says. "Added sugars do one of two things -- they either displace nutritious foods in the diet or add empty calories. Most of us don't have room in our diets for this many calories from added sugars."

Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, agrees. "A major problem is that sugar contains nothing nutritional, and it is edging out the food kids should be eating, especially real fruits and vegetables."

The new findings are from the “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” which is considered the gold standard for evaluating food and beverage habits because the data come from in-person interviews about dietary habits. The results are from more than 7,100 interviews conducted from 2005-2008. Parents answered questions for children under age 9; those older than 9 participated in the survey.

 From the February 28, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.