Young American children are not getting enough fruits and vegetables, but they are consuming too many sugary drinks, a new state-by-state government report shows.
To come to that conclusion, the survey questioned the parents of more than 18,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 about their kids' eating habits.
“This is the first time we've had state-level estimates on these behaviors,” senior study author Heather Hamner, a senior health scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN. “It's a really good time to think about the programs and policies that states have in place and areas where they can continue to work and improve to make the nutrition environment the best it can be for our young children.”
Almost half of kids did not eat even one single vegetable every day, the report published Feb. 17 in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found. In Louisiana, 64% of kids didn't eat a daily veggie.
About one-third of children overall did not have fruit each day. In Louisiana, that was half of all children.
Young kids in Vermont ate the most fruits and vegetables.
Meanwhile, about 57% of kids overall had at least one sugary beverage each week.
In Mississippi, that was nearly 80%. In Maine, it was 38.6%.
“Compared with children living in food-sufficient households, those living in households with marginal or low food sufficiency were less likely to eat either a daily fruit or vegetable and were more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages during the preceding week,” the report said.
The youngest children in the survey were more likely to have eaten a fruit or vegetable each day and less likely to have had a sugary drink.
Researchers found gaps related to race and household food sufficiency, including that parents of Black children were most likely to report that their children did not eat a fruit or a vegetable each day. Parents of white children were least likely to report that.
A diet filled with fruits and veggies -- whether fresh, frozen or canned -- can provide important nutrients and support a child's development.
Nutritional guidelines for kids ages 2 to 3 include a cup of daily fruits and veggies. Those ages 4 to 8 should have 1.5 cups of fruit and vegetables daily.
Parents can help ensure this happens, Hamner said.
“We've found that it can take up to 10 times for a child to try a new food before they like it,” she told CNN. “Continuing to try and expose young children to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is an important piece.”
Limiting foods and beverages with high added sugars is also important because they are associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and poor dental health, according to the report.
“One of the things that's really important is these early dietary behaviors,” Hamner said. “This is really when kids are laying the foundation for some of those dietary behaviors, so starting out strong and making sure that they're creating these healthy behaviors … that's going to set them up as they go into adolescence and adulthood.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some tips for healthy eating.
SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 17, 2023; CNN