U.S. kids are eating healthier these days, but their daily diet is still nowhere near perfect, a new study reports.
Kids today are eating more food that’s good for them: whole grains, whole fruits, dairy, and protein from seafood and plants. And, just as important, they are more likely to avoid sugar-laden foods and drinks full of empty calories, according to a review of children’s diet trends between 1999 and 2012.
The reduction in empty calories was so steep that it “contributed to one-third of the total improvement in children’s diets,” said lead researcher Xiao Gu, a master’s student in epidemiology at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I.
The picture isn’t completely rosy, however.
Kids’ salt intake has increased in recent years, and they aren’t eating more vegetables than they had been, the researchers found.
Senior researcher Katherine Tucker said, “The overall picture is quite optimistic, that some of the messages of eating healthier foods and avoiding soft drinks is getting through.” She is a professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
“The most negative thing is sodium did not improve,” Tucker continued. “Sodium is in so many of our processed foods, and people are used to salty foods. It’s something that is very difficult to change.”
For the study, Gu and Tucker drew dietary data from more than 38,000 kids participating in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, a series of regular studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track U.S. health trends.
The researchers used data from 1999 to 2012 to create a standard 100-point Healthy Eating Index, in which higher scores indicate better food choices.
During the study period, the average Healthy Eating Index score rose to 50.9 in 2012 from 42.5 in 1999, as children ate more healthy foods and more often avoided empty calories, the investigators discovered.
“It’s far from the optimal level of 100,” Gu said. “The increasing trend is encouraging, but the current dietary quality level is disappointing.”
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SOURCE: HealthDay News