Obesity has become a huge problem not only for American adults but also for children and adolescents. Between 1980 and 2010, the percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% to 18%. Adolescents aged 12–19 years fared similarly, with obesity rates increasing from 5% to 18% over the same period. With this increase in obesity comes the same health issues that overweight and obese adults face, including high blood pressure, impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, as well as a host of psychosocial problems.
In an effort to understand the dietary and health habits of children and adolescents, the CDC looked at data gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2008. They found that 16% of the average American child’s daily caloric intake is derived from added sugar. Added sugar was defined as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table.”
Breaking down the study population into sub-groups, boys and girls tend to consume the same proportion of sugar in their diets, although girls consumed fewer calories overall than boys. Non-Hispanic white children and adolescents derived a larger percentage of their daily caloric intake from added sugars compared to other races in the studies. Socio-economic status did not seem to play a role in determining the amount of sugar intake.
Although previous research has demonstrated that most sugar intake is in the form of sweetened beverages, the CDC report challenges this claim. In fact, in children and in adolescents, nearly 60% of daily sugar intake comes from food rather than beverages.
Surprisingly, this study found that a greater percentage of added sugar intake occurred at home rather than away from home. Fifty-four percent of the added sugar calories from beverages were consumed at home, while 66% of the added sugars consumed from foods were consumed at home. Although schools are fraught with unhealthy food choices at the cafeteria and in its vending machines, this study shows that much of these unhealthy habits are actually occurring at home! So what can parents do at home to help?
1. Be the change…consistently:
The key to helping your children eat better may be to eat better yourself. By introducing healthy foods to your kids, you can help your kids form healthier habits when it comes to food. Consistency is key here! According to a UK study, parents who habitually introduced fruits and vegetables to kids increased their intake of these items.
2. Educate your kids:
The first instinct may be to strictly manage your child’s daily food and beverage intake, and this can be accomplished to a certain extent by ridding the house of junk food and providing plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and other unprocessed foods at home to snack on. However, parents cannot monitor their children’s food choices 24/7. Therefore, helping kids to understand food and nutrition may help them to apply these lessons when they have to make these decisions on their own. In fact, a study by researchers at Colorado State University showed that children that were involved in preparing their own meals tended to have more positive attitudes towards food and cooking. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.proxy.cc.uic.edu/pubmed/22078773)
Check out these healthy and tasty menus that you can cook up with your kids!
3. Educate yourself:
Not sure what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet? It can be hard, with magazines, studies, and news reports telling you seemingly conflicting stories! Here are the latest CDC guidelines about nutrition: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/index.html as well as from the American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Nutrition-Center_UCM_001188_SubHomePage.jsp.
4. Eat together:
A 2013 study at Cornell University found that children who ate dinner with the family regularly could help lower BMI in both parents and kids. What’s more, families that ate in the kitchen or dining room, away from distractions like the TV, tended to fare even better.
By Christine Ding, UIC Medical Student
[edited by Susan Buchanan]
6. Wansink B, van Kleef E. Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Oct 1. doi: 10.1002/oby.20629.