Finally some good news about childhood nutrition in the United States; children are eating more fruit! Recently published statistics from the Center for Disease Control show the daily intake of fruit by U.S. children has increased by 67% in the past 10 years. Even better, a drastic shift has occurred between the amount of fruit juice consumed and actual whole fruits. Fruit juice has seen a 30% decline in consumption, and whole fruit consumption increased proportionally. This is an important trend since dieticians and nutritionists strongly recommend a child consume whole fruit instead of fruit juices to lower the child’s sugar intake and afford them the full benefit of other nutrients found in whole fruit.
Other news in the same report is not as encouraging–even though fruit juice consumption is down and whole fruit consumption has risen among US children, diets among children remain critically deficient in both whole fruits and especially vegetables. The Vital Signs study, conducted by the CDC, revealed that children still aren’t reaching the ideal level of fruit intake, and vegetable intake is looking even more dismal. Though fruit intake doubled during the study period, only 40% of children were getting the recommended fruit intake and a dismal 7% were getting the recommended vegetable intake. Vegetables and fruits supply vital nutrients to a developing child, ensuring that they grow healthy and strong.
So how do we continue to improve healthy eating habits in today’s children? Since 60 million kids spend much of every day in schools and daycares, the CDC recommends that these institutions begin implementing healthier eating options as a force for change. The CDC suggests that school districts and childcare centers begin training their food preparation workers on ways to make fruits and vegetables more tasty, and provide educational nutritional programs that make fruits and vegetables fun. Ultimately, a child’s parents play the most critical role in encouraging the consumption of vegetables. If parents committed themselves to eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables themselves, involving their children in shopping for whole food, teaching their children how to cook, and involving them in growing their own produce, many of the problems we see with the terrible diet many American children eat would quickly become a bad memory. Let your kids get their hands in some dirt, learn to shop for fresh produce, and sauté some vegetables, so they can be healthy eaters!
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Written collaboratively by Keri Register and Paul Smolen M.D.