Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Our Children are What They Eat

Overall Trends
We’re eating too much of the wrong things and too little of the right things. That statement is true of the population in general, but particularly true for our children. The top 10 sources of calorie intake for the U.S. population include such items as soft drinks, sweetened cereal, desserts and white breads, chips, ice cream and white potatoes.

Saturated fats comprise about 12 percent of our children’s diets as well as nearly double the recommended amounts of added sugars, which comprise another 20 percent of daily calorie intake.

In all age groups of children 2 to 18 years old, the majority is not meeting daily nutritional requirements. Foods that showed a decline in consumption include milk, vegetables and legumes, and nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, nuts and leafy greens.

Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers
Of the age groups studies, infants and toddlers had the best nutritional content in their diets, primarily due to formula/breast milk and the content of introductory foods like pureed vegetables. Preschoolers even showed an increase in servings for whole grains and some nutritious foods.

Even so, the FITS (Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study) showed that up to one-third of infants and toddlers aged 7-24 months did not consume a serving of vegetables or fruit. Fewer than 10 percent consumed leafy green vegetables, which accounts for a shortage of vitamin E in their diets. 46-62 percent did consume a fruit juice, many of which exceeded the 6oz per day serving size recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians. Diets of the children who drank more then the recommended amounts of fruit juice showed an inadequate intake of calcium due to the decrease in milk consumption.

As the children in this group aged, the quality of their diet declined. Consumption of foods such as white potatoes increased. French fries were the third most consumed vegetable at age 9-11 months, second most consumed vegetable at 12-14 months, and the most consumed vegetable at ages 15 months and up.

The consumption of desserts also increased from 10 percent of infants aged six months to 91 percent of those aged 19-24 months. 12 percent of these older toddlers consumed soft drinks. Typical toddler snacks accounted for some of this consumption. Snacks account for about 25 percent of toddlers’ calorie intake in a day. The most common snack items included milk, water, and crackers. However, snack items such as fruit drinks, candy, chips and cookies were also consumed frequently. Thus, often low nutrient items accounted for one-quarter of toddler diets in the study.

Ages 6-11
Less than half of children ages 6-11 consumed the recommended servings for any one age group. 80 percent did not meet the recommendations for vegetables and 75 percent did not meet the serving requirement for fruit. Among this same 6-11 age group, only 29 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys met the required servings of dairy products.

Adolescents and Up
By the time a child reaches adolescence, the state of their daily nutrition is at its worst. This is an especially disturbing trend because this age marks a growth period comparable to that of the first year of life. Adolescents tend to gain approximately 50 percent of their adult body mass, 40-45 percent of their skeletal mass, and 15 to 20 percent of their height during this period. Thus, at a critical growth period, nutrition intake is at its worst and declining.

Adolescent girls were at the highest risk for not meeting daily nutrition requirements, especially with regard to folate, vitamins A, E, C, B6 and calcium. Less than half of both girls and boys in this age group did not meet minimum intakes from each food group, comparable to the intakes of younger children, including 80 percent who did not meet serving requirements for the vegetable/legume food group. According to the New York Times article “VITAL SIGNS: NUTRITION; Adolescents Aren't Eating Their Vegetables,” adolescence is often accompanied by a notable drop off in fruit and vegetable consumption.

Only 12 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys in this age group consume the recommended daily allowance of dairy products. Inadequate calcium intake during this critical growth period can lead to inadequate bone mass and diseases later in life like osteoporosis.

The main culprit in the decrease of dietary calcium for this age group is sweetened beverages like fruit drinks and sodas. The past forty-year trend has shown a two-fold increase in fruit drink consumption and a three-fold increase in soda consumption.

Currently these beverages comprise 13 percent of adolescents’ daily calorie consumption and are the single leading source for added sugars in their diets. Adolescents consume nearly double the recommended daily limit of added sugars. Basically, as the children grew up, their consumption of milk decreased as their consumption of soda and sweetened beverages increased.


Frugal Mom said...

Yikes! Thats awful. We dont have fruit drinks in the house. We do have 100% juice, but it is limited to one serving per day. And as far as milk goes, my local milk carrier that delivers to our house prolly wonders how we could drink all the milk he has to leave on the porch! I think we go thru 4 gallons a week. Not including the little guy's whole milk. I am in the process of changing the snack regimin in the house, as well. I just made these really great soft pretzels with part whole wheat flour and substituted flax seed meal for the oil...the kids loved em.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I would love the pretzel recipe! Will you be posting that? Let me know!

olivia said...

That makes depressing reading, and I don't think that the UK is far behind the USA. I actually count my blessings nutritionally that my children have allergies - my middle daughter is allergic to aspartame, aesculfame, sorbitol, saccherin etc and my youngest is a coeliac - as it forces me to provide a balanced, unprocessed diet for the whole family! And as snacks go, I make a mean lemon honey drizzle chickpea cake, which uses agave syrup to sweeten (which is low GI). All the children, and their friends, love it. But the main snack in the house is fruit or raw vegetables. We get through loads of milk (about 5 pints a day), and plenty of pulses, legumes, whole grains (although not wheat, oats, barley or rye). And most of the children's friends consider us to eat very strangely indeed.

Thank you for writing this blog, it has made very interesting reading, and I shall certainly be keeping on reading it!

The Expatriate Chef said...

Olivia, the cake sounds great. Also sounds like you have a lot of challenges for menu planning. Kudos to you for stepping up so well. You should post the cake recipe on your blog or somewhere, it sounds wonderful.

Frugal Mom said...

Hey, I posted that pretzel recipe. Check it out!

denny said...

This is a very interesting post, I think parents are responsible for what their children eat from the very beginning .... my daughter is 17 years old, and she is probably the only one of her friends who eats fruits and veggies daily. When they come to my house they get fresh homemade healthy cookies, (which they love) and fruits and veggies. They think it is kind of funny, but THEY EAT IT! Wow, if you offer it they will eventually eat it. And that is my point, if you start your children to eat well with a wide assortment of fresh, whole, real foods they will know it to be "normal foods" and they will naturally eat this way for a life time. If you start your children out eating unhealthy food at a young age, they will naturally gravitate to these foods and it will become harder to change their ways of eating.

My daughter eats a variety of foods, I have never denied her a hotdog at the ballpark or candy or even a soda at a birthday party, I think it is alway a good thing to taste different foods, but I controll what food was available in our home. She is pretty much a "real food" eater and she is very healthy. Real food, fresh food, whole and delicous are the key foods to raising healthy children.

Also, Olivea, this lemon honey drizzle chickpea cake sounds like I want to eat it right now! Wow, may I get the recipe. I make a great coconut, chocolate, pecan cookie sweetened only with organic brown rice syrup that my daughter and her best friend love, they are my favorite also.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks, Denny! We parents do have a huge role in our children's food choices. That topic is part of the next article in the series that I hope to have up in a couple days.
Thanks for visiting! Great to hear how balanced your approach is and your concern.

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