Most Kids Eat Fruits and Vegetables Every Day

Fruit and vegetable consumption was fairly high among young children and slightly less so in adolescents

(RxWiki News) Many parents may face the age-old struggle of convincing their kids to eat fruits and vegetables. But a new study suggests kids are more willing to eat these foods than parents might think.

This study looked at the fruit and vegetable consumption of US youth. The researchers found that most young people ate at least some fruits and vegetables on a given day, but adolescents were slightly less likely than younger kids to eat these foods.

"Try a piece of fruit when you're craving something sweet."

The study was conducted by Samara Joy Nielsen, PhD, MDiv, of the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, and colleagues.

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of many nutrients, and national dietary guidelines recommend that people of all ages eat them each day.

In order to explore whether US children and adolescents are actually eating fruits and vegetables, Dr. Nielsen and team utilized data from the 2009 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This large, national survey examined eating habits by having participants complete a 24-hour dietary recall to report on what they had eaten during the previous day. Adolescents older than 12 generally completed the recall themselves, and children younger than 11 usually had assistance.

Dr. Nielsen and team examined information found in the dietary recalls of kids between the ages of 2 and 19. Fruits included citrus, melons, berries and fruit juices, among others, and vegetables included dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables and starchy vegetables.

The data showed that 77.1 percent of these young people consumed fruit and 91.9 percent consumed vegetables on a given day.

The researchers found differences between youth of different age groups, and consumption of both fruits and vegetables — fruits in particular — was less common among adolescents.

Of children between the ages of 2 and 5, 91.7 percent ate fruit on a given day, compared to 82 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 66.3 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19.

Approximately 93.3 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 ate vegetables on a given day. The same was true of 93.7 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 90 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19.

"Increasing US fruit and vegetable consumption is a national public health priority," the researchers wrote. "These results show that a high percentage of youth do consume at least some fruits and vegetables on a given day. However, about one-quarter of youth did not consume any fruit on a given day. Less than 10 percent of youth did not consume any vegetables on a given day."

In an interview with dailyRx News, Deborah Gordon, MD, nutrition expert and operator of an integrative medical practice based in Ashland, OR, highlighted the fact that much of the fruit consumed was actually fruit juice — 72.1 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5, 55.1 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 42.1 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 consumed fruit juice on a given day.

"By far the greatest consumption of fruit was of fruit juice, which is nutritionally closer to soda than to whole fruit," Dr. Gordon said. "Without the fiber, and often with added sugar, fruit juice is a detriment, not a boost, to good health."

Dr. Gordon also noted that consumption of dark green vegetables was low — 15.6 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5, 10.7 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 10.1 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 consumed dark green vegetables on a given day. 

"For parents concerned with the nutritional quality of their children's eating habits, I offer two suggestions to encourage greater vegetable variety," Dr. Gordon said. "First, all vegetables taste better with butter! Take any vegetable, steam it until it's almost cooked, then sauté it gently in a pan with butter (or ghee for those with dairy allergies) and let children salt to taste.

"Secondly, the greatest influence on life-long eating habits derives from the eating habits of children's parents. Choose a wide variety of vegetables to serve to children when they are young, discuss your favorite vegetables and your favorite topping."

This National Center for Health Statistics study was published online on the CDC website. The researchers reported no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
July 17, 2014