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Children’s Diets Worsen With Age

USDA study finds poor eating habits across socioeconomic groups.

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Rising obesity rates in American children suggest that their diets leave a lot to be desired. Recently, researchers with the USDA Agricultural Research Service explored young people’s diets using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures how well diets align with federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The study focused on children aged 2–18 in various sociodemographic populations. It found that the diet quality of children in America is low overall, with an HEI mean score of 54.9 (range: 0–100). Notably, scores declined among older age groups, with children aged 6–11 and 12–18 eating worse than 2- to 5-year-olds. Non-Hispanic black and white children scored particularly low on the HEI. The study found no significant differences in total diet scores between boys and girls or among economic classes.

These results suggest that the diets of today’s youth are falling short and that stakeholders, including government health organizations and food manufacturers, need to work harder to get healthy choices into the mouths of our younger generations.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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