Children should have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day.
That is equivalent to one small chocolate bar, and less than a can of soda.
A can of Coca Cola contains just under 10 teaspoons of sugar, while a plain Hershey’s bar contains just under six teaspoons of sugar.
For many children, a sugary drink and a sweet snack are just a fraction of the added sugars in their daily diet.
But according to a new report by Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, anything more than six teaspoons a day is dangerous for children.
The study, compiling peer-reviewed research, also warns children under two should have no added sugars in their diet at all.
One teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4g, therefore six teaspoons is equal to 25g of sugar.
That amounts to roughly 100 calories, the study said.
The National Institute of Health currently recommends children aged four to eight should have no more than three teaspoons a day (12g). From nine onwards their intake should not exceed eight teaspoons.
Paediatrics professor Dr Miriam Vos, of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said: ‘Our target recommendation is the same for all children between the ages of two and 18 to keep it simple for parents and public health advocates.
‘For most children, eating no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day is a healthy and achievable target.
‘Children who eat foods loaded with added sugars tend to eat fewer healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health.
‘There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high – the typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars.’
The statement was written by a panel of experts who did a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effect of added sugars on children’s health.
Estimated calories needed by children range from 1,000 a day for a sedentary two-year-old to 2,400 for an active 14 to 18-year-old girl and 3,200 for an active 16-18-year-old boy.
Professor Vos added: ‘If your child is eating the right amount of calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, there isn’t much room in their food “budget” for low-value junk foods, which is where most added sugars are found.’
He said children should have just one can of soda a week, but most ‘are currently drinking their age in sugary drink servings each and every week’.
Because of the lack of research for or against artificial sweeteners the authors felt they could not make a recommendation for or against these no-calorie sweeteners.
In addition, it is not known whether the high sugar content in 100 per cent fruit juices should cause the same concerns as beverages with added sugars.
Prof Vos noted that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that added sugars should make up less than 10 per cent of calories, which aligns with these guidelines.
The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.