Older Tots Ignore Food Pyramid

Food Group Guidelines Among Things Children Don't Pay Attention to as They Gain Independence

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 01, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 1, 2006 - This may come as no surprise to parents, but a new study shows that the older children get, the more likely they are to ignore dietary guidelines, like the government's Food Guide Pyramid.

The study showed young children aged 2 to 3 were much more likely to have well-balanced diets reflecting national dietary recommendations than those 4 to 8 years old.

For example, although older children eat more than younger ones, the number of servings of fruit actually decreased with age. Meanwhile, the number of servings of dark-green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, and deep-yellow vegetables, failed to increase with age.

University of Alabama researchers, including Linda Knol, Phd, RD, say the finding reflects a common tendency among older children and adolescents to abandon healthier eating habits as they become more independent and have more freedom to choose their own snack foods.

But they say small increases -- as little as a serving or two a day -- in the amount of fruits and vegetables children eat could lead to substantial improvements in the quality of children's diets.

Small Changes May Help

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers measured adherence to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guide recommendations by studying the food diaries of nearly 7,000 children aged 2 to 8.

The guide divides foods into several groups and subgroups and recommends the number of servings from all groups as children get older and their daily calorie needs increase. The recommendations are below:

2-3 years4-8 years (Boys)4-8 years (Girls)
Total daily calories1,0001,4001,200
Whole grains1.52.52.0
Other grains1.52.52.0
Vegetables (cups/day)
Dark green (cups/week)
Deep yellow (cups/week)
Starchy (cups/week)
Other (cups/week)
Meat and beans(ounces/day)

Recommended Amounts

Researchers say adherence to these recommendations decreased significantly with increasing age among both boys and girls for many food groups, including whole grains, total vegetables, deep-yellow vegetables, starchy vegetables, total fruits, and meats and beans.

They also say the results suggest even small increases in the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten by the older children would dramatically improve their diets.

In addition, substituting dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables for starchy vegetables, and whole grains for refined ones would significantly improve the diets of both age groups.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Knol, L. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2006; vol 106: pp 1201-1208. News release, American Dietetic Association.
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