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Preschoolers Need Healthier Diets

Some Improvement Seen, but More Work Is Needed
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 3, 2004 -- Better, but needs improvement. That's the nutritional report card on the diets of America's 4- and 5-year-old preschoolers.

Using surveys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers compared children's diets between 1977 and 1998. They also looked for children's food trends during those years.

On the bright side, preschoolers got fewer calories from total fat and saturated fat in 1998 than in 1977. They also ate more grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Plus, they boosted their iron intake.

Unfortunately, the news wasn't all good.

Consumption of added sugar and juice rose. Besides adding sugar and honey to their food at the table, 1998's preschoolers got much of their sugar from candy, fruit drinks, soda, cookies, cakes, chocolate milk, ice cream, and other deserts.

Preschoolers also consumed about 200 more daily calories in 1998 than 1977. Most of that increase came from carbohydrates or sugars, not fats.

Younger Eaters Fare Better

Overall, "preschoolers' diets are moving in the right direction but still can be improved," says researcher Sybille Kranz, PhD, RD, in a news release. Kranz is an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University.

"Consumption of fruits and vegetables needs to be increased and that of total and saturated fat, juice, and added sugar decreased," write Kranz and colleagues in the American Journal of Public Health.

Younger eaters aged 2 and 3 did a bit better than the preschoolers.

"Younger children have a healthier diet than older children," write the researchers. That's probably because the older kids get, the easier it is for them choose what to eat, while adults select foods for babies and toddlers.

A good childhood diet can yield years of benefits.

"Children with healthier diets are less likely to be sick or overweight and they are more likely to continue healthy eating habits when they become adults," says Kranz.

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