03/01/2012 12:44 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2012

CDC Report: Kids Are Eating Less Added Sugar, Still More Than Recommended

The good news? Children have cut down on the amount of added sugar they eat, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bad news: sugar consumption among the under-18 set is still way too high, say researchers.

The USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people of all ages cap calories from sugar, fat and other "discretionary" (read: empty) sources at between 5 and 15 percent. Unfortunately, 16 percent of children’s and teens’ calories come from sugar alone, according to survey responses to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. That means, for most children, about 322 daily calories come directly from added sugar. Boys tended to eat slightly more calories from added sugar each day than girls did -- this was particularly true among teen boys, between ages 12 and 19, who consumed an average 442 calories from added sugar.

What’s more, while legislators and public health officials are focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sports drinks, it turns out that added sugar from food rather than drink accounts for the most sugar-based calories, at 59 percent.

"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," 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 told USA Today. "Many processed foods have added sugars. Those foods contribute more than the beverages."

Though the numbers look grim, they are an improvement over previous years. A separate CDC survey, collected between 1999 and 2000 found that teens between ages 12 and 17 consumed 22 percent of their total calories from added sugar. Still, caretakers can help by making good food choices for the children in their care. WebMD asked the experts:

Parents can help their kids cut down on added sugar intake, says Paul Pestano, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group. He co-authored a recent report on sugary children's cereals.

"Try to limit processed foods," he says, "because that is mostly where it comes from."

On this list are kids' sugary cereals, granola bars, cookies, and candies. Jams and syrups can also have high amounts of added sugar, he says.