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How Current Eating Trends Affect Childhood Health

In childhood, as in adulthood, the more fat that people in your diet, the more calories. That’s because, bite for bite, a gram of fat delivers more than twice the number of calories than a gram of protein or carbohydrate does.

Research performed at Brigham Young University measured the amount of fat consumed by 262 children aged 9 and 10. Then the researchers compiled data on the children’s weights, the parents’ weights, and the level of the children’s activity.

The greater the amount of fat the youngsters ate, the more they weighed, even after genetics and activity level were factored in. The higher the amount of carbohydrates and fiber the children ate, the lower their weights. Fiber-rich carbohydrates are associated with lower body weights and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease in adults as well.

Unfortunately, more children are eating their meals away from home. Often, these meals are eaten at fast-food restaurants, where fiber-rich carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are hard to come by. Other common food-away-from-home sources include stores, day-care centers, and school cafeterias.

Another trend is the shift from drinking milk to consuming more noncitrus juices, juice drinks, and other calorie-dense beverages like soda. Not only has milk been squeezed out of children’s menus, but the consumption of these other beverages that provide calories — and little else — has increased.

The statistics are staggering; by the time a child reaches 5 years-old, her milk consumption will start to slide, so that by 18 years old, soft drinks and juice drinks will reduce milk intake to a skimpy 3/4 cup a day. The researchers who conducted and analyzed the data are worried because the most frequently consumed beverages are low in all nutrients except sugar.

Some juice is fine, but drinking it all day long is not — no matter if it’s a juice drink or 100 percent juice. Not only can constantly washing the teeth with juice lead to dental cavities, but also consuming more than 12 ounces of it a day is associated with reduced height and increased obesity in 2- and 5-year-old children.

Although counting a 4-ounce to 8-ounce glass of 100-percent fruit juice as one or two fruit servings per day is fine; in reality, juice accounts for 50 percent of all the fruit consumed by children. And juice isn’t the best way to get all your fruit servings, because it doesn’t provide fiber, which most children — and adults — don’t get enough of in their diet. Here are how several popular juices compare nutritionally.

Nutritional Comparison of Some Fruit Juices
Orange Juice Grapefruit Juice (Unfortified) Apple Juice Grape Juice (Unfortified)
Vitamin C Excellent source Excellent source Not significant Not significant
Potassium Good source Good source Good source Good source
Folic acid Excellent source Good source Not significant Not significant
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