Most children go days without eating any greens, a new study reveals.
For 90 percent of kids, potatoes – in the form of french fries – are their only constant vegetable.
And more than half of babies aren’t getting any breast milk.
The bleak figures, which emerged today in the journal Pediatrics, have been held up as concrete evidence that America needs to do more to improve children’s nutrition.
It comes the same day President Donald Trump announced plans to scrap healthy eating restrictions on school meals, doing away with sodium limits and compulsory whole grains.
‘We knew from previous studies that more work was needed to improve feeding habits in this age group,’ said study co-author Gandarvaka Miles, a public health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
‘We observed many of the same trends in our study: a substantial proportion of American infants are not breastfed, vegetable consumption is lower than desired, and consumption of sweetened beverages and sugary snacks is prevalent.’
From 2005 to 2008 and again from 2009 to 2012, researchers surveyed parents about infant and toddler eating habits. For the new study, they compared data collected from a total of 2,359 participants.
With the older children in the study, researchers found toddlers were more likely to consume fried white potatoes than green vegetables.
Consumption of green veggies fell by half during the study to only about 8 percent of toddlers by the end.
In infants, nutrition is also far from what health officials are aiming for.
The proportion of babies under six months of age who were breastfed, exclusively or not, was little changed during this time and was about 36 percent by the end of the study period.
Pediatricians recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed infants until at least six months of age because it can reduce babies’ risk of ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome, allergies, childhood obesity and diabetes.
Mothers can benefit too, with longer periods of breastfeeding linked to lower risks of depression, bone deterioration and certain cancers.
‘However, we did observe some trends in the right direction,’ Miles said.
There was a meaningful reduction in use of infant cereals and fruit juices for babies, which fell from 26 percent and 7 percent.
Pediatricians recommend delaying fruit juice until after age one.
And more parents stopped giving infants solid foods before six months of age, a practice doctors discourage because solids are harder to swallow and can be less nutritious and higher in calories than breast milk or infant formula.
‘The rates for vegetable consumption are disappointing, as most parents will know that vegetables are healthy but this isn’t translating into consumption rates in their children,’ Dr. Helen Coulthard of De Montfort University in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the study, said.
One limitation of the study is that parents’ ability to accurately recall and report on how they fed their children during infancy and early childhood isn’t always reliable, the authors note. Researchers also didn’t account for portion sizes.
Still, the findings suggest that parents who struggle to feed their kids the way doctors recommend may be in good company, said Dr. Myles Faith, a researcher at the University at Buffalo who wasn’t involved in the study.
One of the best ways to get kids to try more foods is to stick with it, and keep putting different things in front of them to taste, Faith said by email.
‘Repeated exposure to foods increases children’s preferences and intake,’ Faith added. ‘So, the more opportunities infants and children have to see, taste, and experience fruits and vegetables, the more receptive they should become over time.’
These efforts matter because they can influence children’s eating habits and health later in life, said Dr. Elise Mok of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center in Canada.
‘Early diet has been associated with weight status during childhood and cardiometabolic health in adulthood,’ Mok, who wasn’t involved in the study, said.