Key Nutrition Issues for Children in the U.S.
Nutrition and eating patterns in childhood can influence health and well being in the longterm. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has identified key nutrition related issues for children in the U.S. as the following; promotion of healthy weights, food insecurity, the under-consumption of key nutrients, and the early development of diet-related risks for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis (2014).
Current childhood nutrition concerns include energy balance, excessive intakes of dietary fats, saturated fats, sugar, and sodium (Ogata & Hayes, 2014). The Healthy People 2020 objectives are to decrease the proportion of children and adolescents considered obese by 10% by 2020 (US Department of Health and Human Services, 202; Hoelscher et al., 2013). According to analysis of NHANES data, children have inadequate intakes of foods rich in calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and dietary fiber, including dairy foods, vegetables, fruits, seafood, and whole grains (Ogata & Hayes, 2014).
Many factors influence a child’s diet and overall nutrition. One nutrition related contributor to poor quality of macro and micronutrients is related to the eating habits of children. This includes an increase in snacking, larger portions sizes, eating meals outside of the home, consumption of kid foods, and increased beverage consumption (Ogata & Hayes, 2014). Eating meals outside of the home, specifically fast foods, has caused higher intakes of energy, fat, saturated fat, and sugar (Ogata & Hayes, 2014; Mancino et al., 2010).
Examples of non-nutrition lifestyle factors that affect these specific nutrition issues include; screen time, exercise, sleep hygiene, and physical activity (Ogata & Hayes, 2014) . Several studies have shown an association between television viewing and exposure to food advertising and caloric intake/body fat (Ogata & Hayes, 2014). Both exercise and sleep can influence weight and eating habits (Ogata & Hayes, 2014). Many intervention policies have focused on physical activity as an important part of obesity prevention.
Additional non-nutrition factors involved in overall diet quality include food insecurity, affordability and access to food, parental educational level, and income. Studies have shown that in households experiencing food insecurity, food variety tends to decrease and the consumption of energy-dense foods tends to increase. (Bruening et al., 2012; Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). Families with economic advantages are more likely to focus on the importance of food for health than disadvantaged families (Skafida, 2013). Children who are food insecure are more likely to suffer from a variety of nutrition and health related issues such as iron deficiency, asthma, and fatigue, increased stomach-aches, headaches, and colds (Ogata & Hayes, 2014).
Improving the diet quality and health of children will most likely involve a multifaceted approach. Strategies to address improved macro and micro nutrient intake, weight status and health will need to address economic factors, caregiver education and understanding, food access and affordability, opportunity, and activity on multiple levels.
Bruening, M., MacLehose, R., Loth, K., Story, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012). Feeding a family in a recession: food insecurity among Minnesota parents. American journal of public health, 102(3), 520–526. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300390
Drewnowski A, Darmon N. (2005). Food choices and diet costs: an economic analysis. J Nutr., 135(4):900— 904.
Hoelscher, D. M., Kirk, S., Ritchie, L., Cunningham-Sabo, L., & Academy Positions Committee (2013). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: interventions for the prevention and treatment of pediatric overweight and obesity. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(10), 1375–1394. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.jand.2013.08.004
Mancino, L., Todd, J, Guthrie, J. & Lin, B. (2010). How Food Away From Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-104), USDA. 32 pp. Accessed 3/31/21 at https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=44756
Ogata, B. N., & Hayes, D. (2014). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: nutrition guidance for healthy children ages 2 to 11 years. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(8), 1257–1276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2014.06.001
Skafida V. (2013). The family meal panacea: exploring how different aspects of family meal occurrence, meal habits and meal enjoyment relate to young children’s diets. Sociology of health & illness, 35(6), 906–923. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12007
US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020.https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/ healthy_people/hp2020.htm. Accessed March 31, 2021.