A new study finds that the amount of sugar in a dessert can affect how much children and teenagers eat, which could put them at risk for obesity.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, say that children and youth are particularly vulnerable to the effect of artificial sweeteners, which are often sweetened with aspartame, saccharin, aspartic acid, ascorbic acid and fructose.
The study also found that artificially sweetened desserts had a “dramatically higher risk” of being high in total calories and sugar than foods like cookies, brownies and cakes.
The researchers say artificial sweetener consumption may be increasing as the obesity epidemic has hit the U.S. and other developed countries.
They say the data shows that children’s health is being sacrificed to protect the profits of food manufacturers.
“The evidence points to an unhealthy, high-sugar diet as the leading cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents,” lead author Laura Kallman, a researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said in a news release.
“This finding is concerning given the obesity pandemic is spreading beyond the United States and Europe, and the increasing number of people in the developing world who are also at risk of developing obesity.”
The study involved 6,852 children and young people who were recruited from over 500 schools in 13 countries.
The research team analyzed data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which followed children and adults over the course of three years.
It followed them for an average of five years.
The children and their parents were asked about their diet and physical activity habits over the last year.
They also completed a questionnaire about their eating habits and reported any weight-related health problems.
The data revealed that the average daily consumption of sugar was 3.7 teaspoons of added sugar, and that the daily amount of added sugars was higher for children in middle age, between ages 10 and 14, and in children who were obese.
Children who ate more than 1.5 teaspoons of sugar a day had a median weight of 3.1 pounds.
They were also more likely to have been overweight, had diabetes and had high blood pressure.
The team also found a significantly higher intake of sugar by children who ate sugar-sweetening desserts, including artificially sweetener-containing beverages.
They reported a median intake of 2.2 teaspoons of artificial sugar a year.
For all of the children and the adults in the study, the average intake of artificial sugars was 4.7 grams.
For adults, it was 4 grams.
The sugar content of sweetened beverages was also higher for those who ate fewer than 5 teaspoons of these beverages per day.
The average sugar intake was higher among people who consumed more than 3 teaspoons of the beverages.
The authors suggest that children are eating more of these products because they have access to cheaper substitutes and don’t necessarily understand the calories in them.
“They’re eating less sugar because they don’t understand the nutritional value of what’s in them,” Kallmann said.
In addition to these products, the researchers found that artificial sweetened soft drinks were often more expensive, particularly for children.
“The sugar is also added to them, and it has been shown that the sweeteners are much more concentrated in the beverage,” she said.
“These artificial sweetening drinks may not be a good choice for kids.”
The researchers also found high sugar intakes among students.
“Children are more likely than adults to consume high-calorie drinks and foods in which sugar is added to the mix,” they wrote.
The children in the current study also were more likely in the middle age group and overweight, and were more at risk than adults for diabetes.
The high sugar intake could also be linked to other health problems, the study authors said.
For example, children are more than twice as likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, compared to adults.
And children and children with type 2 are more prone to heart disease and stroke than adults.
Kallman said that there are other foods that are not high in added sugars, such as white rice and fruit juices.
“We need to work together to develop healthier foods that kids and families can enjoy,” she told NBC News.