Healthy Eating on the Rise in American Youth

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November 27, 2016

American children ate healthier food overall but can still do better, according to a recent study.

The study asked 38,000 children in the United States ages 2 to 18 to list what they had eaten in the last day and then assigned to the consumed food a score on the Healthy Eating Index. Nutritionists combined the scores to create a yearly average for each year from 1999 to 2012.

The average score from 1999 was 42.5 (on a 100-point scale); the average score from 2012 was 50.9. That is definitely improvement, the nutritionists said, but they also pointed to the scale's top number, 100, and said that American children could do better with their consumption of healthy foods.

The nutritionists credited the increase to a greater awareness of the need to avoid "empty calories" like foods that have added fats and sugars. Taxes or bans on sugary drinks were a factor, the scientists said. A more straightforward cause of the increase, the nutritionists said, was a jump in the consumption of wholegrains, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating Index is an indicator of food consumption in line with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The USDA is in the process of updating the Healthy Eating Index to reflect the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The new study, which appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, began tracking children's food consumption in 1999, the first year of the Healthy Eating Index.

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