Wednesday, October 6, 2010

American Youth Eating a Lot of Empty Calories

Most people are aware that we have a problem in this country with the growing number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.  We know that this is a result of many different factors in our world today, but our eating habits seem to be a big part of this epidemic.  A recent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association took a look at at what American youth are eating and what the major sources of "empty" calories are (that is, nutrient-poor foods that supply calories and very few nutrients to a person's diet).  Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers found that the top sources of energy (calories) for 2-18 year olds included grain desserts, pizza and soda.  Sugar-sweetened beverages (this included soda and fruit drinks) provided almost 10% of total calories for the day!  Also disturbing is that 40% of the total calories taken in daily by these kids were from empty calories!  Half of these empty calories came from soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. 

This article is not surprising but it does remind us that we must continue to work on improving the diets of our kids!  I have talked about how our society today is "overfed but undernourished" and this article helps to point out why.  If our kids are getting 40% of their calories from empty calorie foods, how can they possibly get all of the nutrients they need in a day?

Those of you on our food program can use this information to show parents and guardians of the children in your care why it is important to choose a home child care provider who participates in the CACFP.  The CACFP meal pattern encourages eating foods from all of the food groups and limiting added sweets and fats.  As a provider, you can also use this information as a reminder about what children are eating when they are not with you.  That makes it even more important for you to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, by limiting empty calorie foods and offering your children nutrient-rich foods!

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