News article

US kids’ intake of solid fat and added sugar decreasing, but still exceeding recommendations

Posted:  Tuesday, November 12, 2013

US children are consuming less solid fats and added sugar from stores, schools, and fast-food restaurants, but intakes are still exceeding recommendations, says the first study of its kind to track the trends from 1994-2010. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that, while progress is being observed, schools are not doing such a great job when it comes to added sugar in flavored milks and excessive solid fat in pizza and French fries.

Approximately 12.5 million American children and adolescents (17%) are obese. A lot of attention has been paid to low-income, preschool-aged children, where 1 in 7 children is said to be obese. A slight decrease in the numbers for these children has been recorded in recent years – between 2003 and 2010, a drop in the prevalence of obesity from 15.2% to 14.9% was reported.

Informing strategies

“The current findings can inform strategies targeted to the specific food sources and locations where continued progress is needed,” wrote Jennifer Poti, Meghan Slining, and Barry Popkin in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“In particular, added sugar in flavored milks and excessive solid fat in pizza and french fries should be targeted as schools implement new nutrition standards for school meals as schools implement new nutrition standards for school meals and for competitive foods.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 55 million children are enrolled in schools in the US, with many eating meals and snacks there. However, a 2011 CDC report found that over 50% pf middle and high schools still offer sugary drinks and fewer healthy food options for purchase.

“[In addition,] further monitoring is necessary to evaluate the impact of food manufacturers’ and retailers’ commitments to improve store-bought foods, implementation of school nutrition standards, and menu-board labeling at fast-food restaurants.”

New data

Since knowledge is limited on how location influences the intake of energy from solid fat and added sugar (SoFAS), Poti, Slining, and Popkin examined data from 22,103 children aged from 2-19 from five nationally representative dietary surveys.

Results showed that the contribution of SoFAS to total energy intake decreased significantly between 1994–1998 and 2009–2010 across the three locations (stores, schools, and fast-food restaurants), with better reductions in schools (decreasing from 38.7% of energy in ’94-’98 to 31.2% in ’09-’10), and fast-food restaurants (decreasing from 43.3% in ’94-’98 to 34.6% in ’09-’10). Stores had smaller decreases from 38.3% in 1994-98 to 33.2% in 2009-10.

While overall results were steps in the right direction, the researchers found that schools provided french fries that had more solid fat than store-bought versions, and there were no significant differences in SoFAS content between school and fast-food pizza.

Greater progress has been made for sugar-sweetened beverages, they noted, with lower-sugar beverages replacing regular sodas.

“Decreases in overall SoFAS content from all locations and for key foods from stores and schools were encouraging,” wrote the authors. “However, SoFAS intake continues to exceed recommendations, supporting the conclusion of several previous studies: efforts to reduce children’s consumption of SoFAS must be made across multiple locations.”

American Journal of Preventive Medicine November 2013, Volume 45, Number 5, Pages 551-559, “Solid fat and added sugar intake among u.s. Children: the role of stores, schools, and fast food, 1994-2010” Authors: J.M. Poti, M.M. Slining, B.M. Popkin

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