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Study says nearly 40 percent of American children's diet consists of empty calories


Pizza, sugar-sweetened beverages and grain desserts are the top sources of calories for children in the United States, according to findings (subscription required) published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

In the study, researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and calculated solid fats and added sugars using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid Equivalents Database.

Their results showed that, for children aged 2-18 years, sugar-sweetened beverages, which includes soda and fruit drinks, provided almost 10 percent of total calories consumed. Almost 40 percent of total calories consumed were in the form of empty calories from solid fat and from added sugars. Half of empty calories came from six foods: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk.

In an accompanying commentary (subscription required), University of Rochester Medical Center researcher Rae-Ellen W. Kavey, MD advocated for dramatically reducing the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages in children's diets:

High added sugar consumption which occurs most commonly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a constellation of cardiovascular risk factors, both independently, and through the development of obesity. Multiple studies have shown that presence of these risk factors in childhood is associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and early cardiovascular disease. Randomized trials of nutritionist-guided interventions show us that diet change can be accomplished and is associated with important cardiovascular benefits. This combined body of evidence suggests that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should be considered a critical dietary approach to reducing cardiovascular risk in childhood

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito

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