Just as the waistline of the average adult American is expanding at a belt-breaking rate, so too are those of this country’s youth. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to see that almost overnight we’ve gone from Generation X to Generation XXL.
Recent research shows that kids today consume 180 calories more per day compared to kids in 1989, and all of those extra calories translate into some pretty staggering health consequences: 45 percent of this country’s youth are overweight or obese, and the number of children burdened with diabetes has nearly quadrupled in the past thirty years.
Only 2 percent–that’s right, 2 percent–of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are fulfilling their five main recommendations for a healthy diet laid out in the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid. That means a serious dearth of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, and lean proteins and an excess of sugar-filled packaged foods. In fact, a study of 4,000 children of that same age group showed that the overwhelming bulk of their nutrients come from cereals and fruit drinks. If kids are relying on Frosted Flakes and Hawaiian Punch for nutrition, we know there’s a problem.
We all need help with our diets, especially kids. Use the guidelines and tips below to lay the foundation for a life of healthy eating.
Only 30 percent of children consume the recommended number of servings of milk each day. Avoid brittle bones by pouring them a glass of calcium-enhanced orange juice for breakfast, or by making a cup of low-fat, low-sugar yogurt or string cheese part of their daily snack routine.
Besides keeping our bellies feeling full, fiber plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels, which makes it a potent weapon against one of the biggest health threats facing kids today: type II diabetes. The American Health Foundation recommends that a child’s fiber intake be equivalent to his or her age plus 5 grams a day. Start their days with a bowl of cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving and send them off to school with a high-fiber fruit like raspberries, a banana or a sliced apple.
Only about one-third of males and females 12 to 19 years old consume the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential in developing and strengthening our immune systems, improving vision, and aiding in healthy cell growth. Try pairing baby carrots with peanut butter for an afternoon snack.
According to a survey by the USDA, 60 percent of children 5 years and younger, 60 percent of females 6 to 11 years old, and only 28 percent of females 12 to 19 years old consume 100 percent or more of the recommended daily allowance for iron. Celery sticks, sliced tomatoes and baked sweet potatoes are all solid sources of iron.
Only one in five children consume the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and one-quarter of all vegetables that are consumed are French fries. Opt for whole fruit–oranges, watermelon, pineapple–over juice whenever possible and make sure dinner always comes accompanied with at least one serving of colorful vegetables like peppers, asparagus, or carrots.
The USDA and National Cholesterol Education Program recommend reducing fat intake to an average of 30 percent of calories or less for children over 2 years old.
Saturated fat intake should be an average of less than 10 percent of calories for those over 2 years old, according to the USDA.
A child’s diet should have 35 percent or less of its total calories from sugars, excluding sugars occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Soft drink consumption has doubled over the last 30 years. (Teenage boys consume twice the recommended amount of sugar each day, almost one-half of which comes from soft drinks; teenage girls fare even worse.) Each daily serving of sugar-sweetened soda increases a child’s risk for obesity by 60 percent.
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