A Failing Grade: The Poor Diets of America’s Children

It’s no secret that the dietary habits of many Americans leave a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, it’s not just adults in the United States that consume too much junk food. According to a recent report, children in the US are likewise eating too many empty calories.

Getting Answers

The report in question was authored by two faculty members from Tufts University, Drs. Junxiu Liu and Dariush Mozaffarian. The duo examined data on childhood diet quality from 1999 to 2016, publishing their conclusions in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2020.

For their study, the authors relied on data previously collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This long-running project gathered its information on dietary patterns via interviews with parents and their children. Children aged 6 to 11 answered questions with the help of a parent or other adult, while respondents aged 12 and up were allowed to complete interviews on their own. Parents or other adults provided all data for children under the age of six.

In all, the authors reviewed the food consumption patterns of over 31,000 children between the ages 2 and 19. Each subject’s diet was assigned a rating of poor, intermediate or ideal.

Keeping Score

The data from the study did not paint a pretty picture; less than 1 percent of the participants qualified as having “ideal” diets. In contrast, 44 percent of the children had intermediate diets, while more than half (56 percent) maintained low-quality diets. As distressing as those numbers may be, not all of the news is bad. In 1999, the percentage of children with low-quality diets stood at 77 percent.

The authors contend that their work highlights the need to improve the dietary patterns of children in the US. “Our findings of slowly improving, yet still poor, diets in U.S. children are consistent with the slowing of rises in childhood obesity but not any reversal,” stated Mozaffarian. “Understanding these updated trends in diet quality is crucial to informing priorities to help improve the eating habits and long-term health of all of America’s youth.”

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