2009-03-07 / News

Children, teens need to eat more fruits, vegetables

COLUMBUS - Children and teenagers tend to rely too much on juice for their fruit intake and on french fries for their vegetable intake, according to an Ohio State University study.

The eating patterns could have long-term health implications, says one of the researchers who conducted the study, published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"These findings have a very broad impact in terms of our population," said Hugo Melgar- Quinonez, nutrition specialist with Ohio State University Extension and assistant professor in Ohio State's Department of Human Nutrition. "We're suffering as a nation because we're not meeting the recommendations for the types of food we should be eating, and the fact that so few children get enough fruits and vegetables could have implications in the development of chronic disease."

Melgar-Quinonez, who also has an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, worked on the study with Barbara Lorson, a registered dietitian who was a master's student at the time, and Chris Taylor, assistant professor in Ohio State's Division of Medical Dietetics.

The researchers examined data collected on 6,513 children in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and compared it to recommendations in the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Even when fruit juice and french fries were counted in total fruit and vegetable consumption, researchers found:

In children ages 2-5, only 50 percent met recommendations for fruit intake, and just 22 percent met recommendations for vegetable intake.

In children ages 6-11, only 26 percent met recommendations for fruit intake, and just 16 percent met recommendations for vegetable intake.

In youths ages 12-18, only 20 percent met recommendations for fruit intake, and just 11 percent met recommendations for vegetable intake.

The guidelines, online at htp://www.mypyramid.gov, recommend between 1 to 2.5 cups of fruit and 1 to 4 cups of vegetables, depending on a youth's age, sex and activity level.

"Even if you drink 100 percent fruit juice, the amount of sugar is quite high," Melgar-Quinonez said. Although fruit juice has nutrients that soft drinks, for example, don't, it's also not as filling as eating a piece of fruit. In previous research, Melgar- Quinonez found that Mexican- American children in California who drank more fruit juice were more likely to be overweight.

French fries are also high in calories, and, while potatoes have always been considered to be part of a healthful diet, relying too heavily on them crowds out other vegetables from a healthy plate, Melgar-Quinonez said.

"We always encourage different vegetables of many colors -- colors mean something," Melgar Quinonez said. "They indicate different types of vitamins and phytochemicals." For example, red fruits and vegetables, including strawberries and tomatoes, are often good sources of lycopene, and dark leafy greens are often good sources of lutein, both of which are associated with lower risk of cancer.

"We were encouraged that, at an early age, at least half of the children were meeting the recommendations for fruit," Melgar-Quinonez said. "But both fruit and vegetable consumption drop as children get older. We need to reverse that trend."

Among other findings of the study:

Children who come from lower-income households tended to eat less fruit, but no differences across income levels were evident in vegetable consumption.

Mexican-American children tended to consume more fruit than non-Hispanic white or African American children.

Children who were overweight tended to consume less total fruit and more french fries.

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