Eating healthy at a young age is important to prevent many kinds of diseases at a later stage of life, but that's not the only reason. Many U.S. children are suffering from obesity and diabetes and have other risk factors due to unhealthy nutrition and poor eating habits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report in 2014 stating that more than 90% of children in the U.S. do not eat healthy. The report was based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2003-2010) and focused on the fruit and vegetable eating habits of children ages 2-18. The findings of the national survey do not paint an optimistic picture of children’s nutrition in the U.S., a picture that we should all look at and consider how to change.
How much fruits and vegetables do U.S. children eat in a day?
Daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables for children range from 1-2 cups of fruit and 1-3 cups of vegetables, depending on the child's age and physical activity. Data from the CDC survey shows that 60% of U.S. children do not eat enough fruits and 93% of children in the U.S. don’t eat enough vegetables to meet daily recommendations. The daily menu of U.S. children is generally based on other food groups, and not necessary healthy kinds of foods.
from the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0805-fruits-vegetables.html
According to the CDC, "Encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables is a national health priority because fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients and childhood dietary patterns are associated with food patterns later in life."
Healthy eating habits include dietary changes and smarter food and drink choices. One of the national goals is to reduce the amount of juice that children drink (even if it is 100% from fruit) and to encourage them to eat whole fruits instead. In this area, there was a small improvement according the survey. The CDC reports, "From 2003-2010, the amount of fruit juice children drank decreased by about 30 percent, and whole fruit replaced fruit juice as the main contributor of fruit to children’s diets. Experts recommend that the majority of fruit come from whole fruit, rather than juice."
Empty calories foods instead of fruits and vegetables
What is influencing the eating habits of children in the U.S.? What do they eat if not fruits and vegetables? In many cases, children eat foods that are high in "empty calories." The term empty calories refers to foods rich in solid fats or added sugars. Those foods are high in energy (calories) but very low in nutritional benefits. According to the USDA, "A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy."
An article published in 2013 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tried to understand where children in the U.S. get their empty calorie foods. The data in the article was also collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010). According to the article, there are three main sources:
Stores (33%) For example: Sugar-sweetened beverages, grain desserts, high-fat milk
Schools (32%) For example: Schools contributed about 20% of U.S. children's intake of high-fat milk and pizza
Fast food restaurants (35%) For example: Sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy desserts, French fries, pizza
Those findings are disturbing and raise the question, "How can we make a change?" The answer is not easy and cannot immediately be found in the national system (school cafeteria menus and restaurants to reduce accessibility to empty calorie foods).
But the first step is in our hands. Make an effort as parents to supply more fruits and vegetables to your children at every meal (even if they don’t want to eat them at first). Also, limit the frequency of eating out and buying sweets and sodas at the store.
Yes, the change needs to grow from within. It is our responsibility to help our children grow healthy with a good variety of foods in their menu. Let’s change the statistic! We can start in our homes to create a healthier nation.
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