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Diet Quality Low but Steadily Improving Among U.S. Kids

November 29, 2016

An analysis of diet quality among more than 38,000 U.S. children shows that nutrition for the nation’s kids has been getting steadily better in recent years, but what they eat is still far from ideal and disparities persist by income, race and receipt of government food assistance. On the whole, the diet of U.S. children improved markedly between 1999 and 2012 but it remains poor, said the authors of a new study led by Xiao Gu, a master’s student in Epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

The bottom-line measure in the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is the standard, 100-point Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010) score. Over the study period the average HEI-2010 rose to 50.9 from 42.5 as children ate more healthy foods, such as whole fruit, and became increasingly likely to avoid “empty calories,” such as sugary drinks. The latter improvement explained about a third of the total improvement.

“I am encouraged by the gains,” said study lead author Gu. He collaborated with corresponding author Katherine Tucker of the University of Massachusetts Lowell on the study, which analyzed data gathered from 38,487 children aged 2 to 18 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

“Although we showed several components still need to be improved … our paper provides evidence that we are on the correct track,” Gu added.

Read more of David Orenstein's story on children's improving diets.