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Approved research

The Long-Term Effects of Excess Sugar Consumption in Early Childhood.

Principal Investigator: Dr Tadeja Gracner
Approved Research ID: 58599
Approval date: April 30th 2020

Lay summary

The average daily intake of sugars added to foods during processing and preparation is too high; exceeding triple the recommended daily amount. This is concerning because excess intake of added sugars is a key risk factor for unhealthy weight-gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer; diseases that account for nearly 70 percent of all deaths and a global economic burden of more than $2 trillion per year. More troubling is that infants and toddlers consume too much added sugar as well. While nutritional guidelines recommend zero added sugars for children up to age 2, American infants and toddlers consume an average of 4.2 tsp of added sugars per day, and their consumption vastly exceeds the recommended limit for adults by age 24 months. Though debated for years, rigorous evidence on the long-term health impacts of such early exposure is limited and the pathways through which early nutrition may have lasting effects are poorly understood. We will exploit a unique natural experiment - the end of sugar and sweets rationing in 1953 in the United Kingdom (UK) - that provides variation in exposure to sugar and sweets in early childhood to evaluate the long-term causal effects on diet, health and economic outcomes measured more than five decades later in older adulthood. In our analyses, we will assume that cohorts born soon before and after the rationing ended are similar, except in their exposure to sugar and sweets early in life and aim to assess the extent to which habits, epigenetics and perinatal conditions play a role in differences in adult health outcomes. The anticipated project duration is three years. The findings will, at a minimum, provide a new reference for dietary guidelines on added sugar intake for children below two years of age, their long-term impact, and inform early obesity and related disease prevention efforts.