IFIC: Picky-eating, price & a disconnect about sources of sugar hinder children’s healthy eating

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/SeventyFour
Source: Getty/SeventyFour

Related tags International Food Information Council Food for kids Dietary Guidelines for Americans

When it comes to feeding children, caregivers have a wealth of nutritional information at their fingertips that they say they understand, and yet most children fall short of the recommended intakes of fruit, vegetables and whole grains and consume too much added sugar, saturated fat and sodium, according to new data from the International Food Information Council.

For many parents, the disconnect between healthy aspirations and nutritional realities can be attributed to their children refusing to try or eat a wider variety of foods, their preference for sweets and ‘junk food,’ the taste of healthy foods and the cost of healthy food, revealed IFIC’s new survey “Knowledge, Understanding and Behaviors When Feeding Young Children.”

The survey of 1,199 adults nationwide conducted by Dynata Dec. 12-Jan. 4 with support from Abbott also revealed even though caregivers may say they know what children should eat they struggle to keep track of what kids consume. Likewise, they may not understand the impact of certain categories of foods and beverages on their ultimate nutrition goals.

Information abounds and yet nutritional goals remain elusive

According to the survey, more than two-thirds of caregivers say they are extremely or very satisfied with available nutritional guidance for children and 85% say they know enough to make informed diets. Likewise, half say they know at least a fair amount about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and 64% say they always or often look at the Nutrition Facts label and 62% say they look at the ingredient deck.

As such, two-thirds say they are very or extremely confident their child receives the nutrition they need to grow and develop.

And yet, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans found most children do not consume the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains and they consume too much added sugar, saturated fat and sodium.

This disconnect is “a reminder that translation from knowledge into practice is a challenging front, especially when facing the hurdles of feeding young children,”​ IFIC acknowledges.

One of the top hurdles to feeding children a nutritious diet is picky-eating, which 39% of survey respondents noted. In addition, two out of five said they wished their children were more willing to try new foods and 37% said they wanted to diversify the foods and amount of vegetables their children eat.

Vegetables are a particular sticking spot for many caregivers, according to the survey. It found 41% of survey respondents struggle to feed children dark green vegetables and 28% say the same of red and orange vegetables.

“Children seemed to be the least resistant to consuming dairy, fruit or whole grains,”​ according to IFIC, but even these could be problematic for some based on the data that found only 33% of children eat dairy products three or more times a day, 27% eat three or more servings of protein or fruit and 19% eat grains or vegetables at least three times a day.

Another hurdle to meeting nutrition guidelines is the price, according to 30% of survey respondents who told IFIC that the cost of healthy food is a major obstacle.

Sugar intake remains high

According to the 2020 Dietary Guidelines​, children under 2 years should avoid foods and beverages with added sugar but about 11% of young children’s total daily energy take on average comes from added sugar – a number that goes up to 15% for adolescence.

The vast majority of caregivers – 88% – surveyed by IFIC said they limit or avoid sugar in their diets, suggesting strong adherence to the dietary guidelines. But, at the same time, 90% of respondents said their children eat sweets at least once a day and 74% said they regularly drink juice and 25% said they often drink regular soda.

As IFIC notes, this discrepancy highlights “where nutritional realities might be falling short of aspiration.”

Parents’ wish list

Beyond trying to increase the variety in children’s diets or cut back on sugar, 59% of caregivers told IFIC their top consideration when choosing food for their kids is its ability to help them grow and develop.

The other top considerations for product selection, according to IFIC, were immune-boosting at 41%, digestive health at 23% and reducing the risk of developing health conditions later in life at 23% of respondents.

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