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Kids, teens in U.S. eating better but nutrition gaps persist

By HealthDay News
While young people are improving their diets, researchers say gaps still exist. Photo by jp26jp/Pixabay
While young people are improving their diets, researchers say gaps still exist. Photo by jp26jp/Pixabay

Despite some improvements, more than half of America's youth still aren't eating right, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed data on the diets of more than 31,000 children and teens, aged 2 to 19, who took part in a nationwide health and nutrition survey between 1999 and 2016.

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Over the 18-year study period, the percentage of kids with poor diets declined from 77 percent to 56 percent. The proportion with intermediate diets rose from 23 percent to 44 percent.

In 2016, 67 percent of adolescents had a poor diet, compared with 53 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds and 40 percent of children 5 years and younger.

And significant disparities persisted. For example, 65 percent of kids from the lowest-income families had a poor diet in 2016, compared with 47 percent from the highest-income households.

"This is a classic 'glass half full or half empty' story," said study senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

Between 1999 and 2016, dietary improvements amounted to the daily equivalent of: eight fewer ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages (about eight fewer teaspoons of added sugar); a half-serving more of whole grains (for example, a half slice of whole grain bread or quarter-cup of rolled oats); and a fifth of a serving more of whole fruit (about seven grapes or part of an apple).

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"Kids' diets are definitely improving, and that's very positive," Mozaffarian said in a Tufts news release. "On the other hand, most still have poor diets, and this is especially a problem for older youth and for kids whose households have less education, income or food security."

The findings were published March 24 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on nutrition.

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