06 October 2010

U.S. children consuming empty calories at an astonishing rate

Almost half of the average American child’s caloric intake is derived from foods with almost no nutritional value, such as pop and pizza, reported Jill Reedy, PhD, MPH, RD, and Susan M. Krebs-Smith, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Cancer Institute, in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They called for a change in the choices of foods available to children in order to prevent this trend from continuing.

Dr. Mary Story, a Registered Dietitian at the University of Minnesota not associated with the study, called the results “alarming," in an interview with MedPage Today.

"When you look at the finding that 40% of total calories consumed by kids were in the form of empty calories, that's cause for great concern," she explained in the same interview.

Even though healthy eating ads and education are on the rise, so-called “junk foods” are still prominent and popular with children. Highly processed foods are often more convenient and cheaper than their healthier alternatives.

The purpose of Reedy and Krebs-Smith’s study was to look for what has caused the onslaught of obesity in children and adolescents. According to their study, more than 23 million youth are diagnosed overweight or obese. This condition is leading to health issues that used to be “reserved” for adults.

In the study, Reedy and Krebs-Smith analyzed data from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), tabulating the main sources of calories, fats and sugars in consumers aged 2 to 18. Those that topped the list were sweets, pizza, and pop, all mostly comprised of empty calories.

Dr. Story was especially concerned, noting that food choices made in youth often set the pattern for adult diets and lifestyles, and suggesting that this is not a good start to healthy behavior.

"We know that eating patterns' preference for sweet and fat develop early on in life," she told MedPage Today. "Eating patterns can change, but ... these foods are not benefiting kids now."

Story suggested that marketing may be a culprit, and believes that the companies that produce these foods should instead focus on making and marketing healthier options, especially for children. She also offered solutions to the problem, including implementing a tax on soda as well as creating and enforcing federal policies on keeping certain foods out of schools.

Source: Medpage Today

Geanna Marek | @greenvegnliving
Geanna was born and raised in veg-friendly Portland where she currently works as a freelance writer and librarian assistant. Find Geanna at her sustainable vegan living blog greenveganliving.com.

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