This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 20, 2014.
Over the past decade, efforts to improve American youths’ diets have been fruitful. Unfortunately, they haven’t been “veggieful.”
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows children are eating far more whole fruit than they used to and drinking less juice. But the amount of vegetables they eat hasn’t changed.
Researchers concluded this by examining the eating habits of children, ages 2 to 18, using 2003-10 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Even with the increase in fruit consumption, a majority of youths are still eating less of it than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend. And almost all children are falling short on vegetables. Depending on a child’s age, USDA guidelines call for 1 to 2.5 cups of fruit a day, and 1 to 4 cups of vegetables. For reference, one cup equals a small apple or about 12 baby carrots.
The research revealed some age and gender gaps. Those ages 2 to 5 had the greatest ratio of fruit to total daily calories, and youth ages 12 to 18 had the greatest ratio of vegetables to total calories. Overall, girls ate more vegetables than boys.
The scientists note that school-lunch nutrition standards and other federally subsidized nutrition programs give most children equal access to both fruit and vegetables, but youths tend to prefer the taste of fruit. The report suggests it’s easier to incorporate fruit into children’s diets because it can be eaten on its own, on the go, or without much preparation.
Here are the numbers:
The percentage increase in U.S. children’s consumption of whole fruit in 2009-10 compared with 2003-04. Over the same period, children’s fruit juice consumption was down 29 percent.
The amount of change in American children’s vegetable intake during the seven years of the study. Unlike fruit, youths aren’t eating more vegetables than they used to.
Of the vegetables children did report eating, 30 percent came from white potatoes. Those were mainly eaten in unhealthy forms like fries or chips.
The percentage of American children who were not consuming the USDA recommended amount of vegetables in 2007-10, according to separate research from the National Cancer Institutes. And even with the increased fruit consumption, 60 percent of youths were still falling short of the USDA’s fruit recommendations.