The Latest National Children’s Report Card on Nutrition

We Regret to inform you they failed

Broad agreement by experts on any subject rarely occurs.  It has occurred on one subject, our children’s nutrition. That is good, as broad agreement often leads to definitive opinions about a solution.  The opinion has been for the past 20 years that children’s nutrition has been subpar and perhaps one of the most important drivers of our chronic metabolic disease epidemics.

One of the most disturbing analyses of health status I have heard in the last 30 years was an assessment of the trends in type two diabetes.  Researchers had followed the trend in childhood overweight and obesity over several decades.  The comments came in their summary of the latest data in 2000.  Because weight is the most predictive measure of diabetes risk and the statistical relationship between weight statistics and diabetes statistics was so clear they predicted that one in three children born in the year 2000 and after would become diabetic in their lifetime.  The result would be that the percentage of the population with type two diabetes would more than double over the current rate, a rate which has doubled over the past 30 years.

The link to nutrition is that poor patterns of eating are the most driving of the overweight and obesity epidemic. We gain disease generating belly and mid-section fat because we eat food that provides more energy than is needed in the 4-5 hours after the meal.  We store it in the central parts of the body as “energy for later” but later never comes as we follow it in 4-5 hours with another excess, energy dense meal.

This new report compared the relative amount of children’s food coming from fast food over the past 20 years.  The alarm bells went off in 2003 when it was found that 14% or approximately one in six meals that children ate was fast food.  By 2010 this figure had dropped to 11% or just over one in ten meals.  The trend was short-lived.  The more years out from a fear or concern diminishes our fear and concern.  The latest analysis of 2018 found that children were back at 14% of meals from fast food or one in every 6 meals they eat.  It seemed that we raised the grade from “F” in 2003 to “D+” in 2010.  Now we are back at an “F”.

The evils of fast food are not a great mystery.  They are too energy rich, they contain too many unhealthy fats and too much added sugar.  The why of this trend may be a little more subtle.  As the consciousness began to reduce our fast food intake after 2003, the industry simply increased their marketing efforts to mislead most.  Before we ground little Johnny, we need to appreciate where the problem begins.  A 2016 study found that 91% of parents bought their children fast food for a meal each week.  It is easy to think, “not me” until we remember the once or twice a week pizza delivery. 

A good parental mantra is “fast yes, healthy no”. It gets harder to justify this if one always thinks of this before deciding where to eat.  I always thought that if I ever wrote a book about all of this, it would be titled “Convenienced to Death: What happened to America”.