According to the Health Guidelines for Americans, over 40% of children and adolescents are overweight or have obesity. Although the USDA has been publishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every 5 years since 1980, for the explicit reason of providing science-based advice on what to eat and drink to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs, this is the highest rate of overweight and obesity that has been recorded.
This, as you’d understand, is a grave concern for the USDA as being overweight and obese in childhood has been shown to lead to health problems later in life such as Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, and Cancer. With only 59% of Americans adhering to the guidelines, we thought it would be important to share some helpful insights from the 2020-2025 Health Guidelines to help you and your little ones on your health journey.
One of the key ideas for keeping a healthy lifestyle is promoting and maintaining a healthy dietary pattern. What is a dietary pattern? Well, “A dietary pattern represents the totality of what individuals habitually eat and drink, and the parts of the pattern act synergistically to affect health.”
In other words, all the foods, beverages, and snacks you consume during a day, week, or year would be considered your dietary pattern. One of the reasons a dietary pattern is important, according to the USDA, is that opposed to individual foods across one’s diets, dietary patterns may be better predictors of overall health risks. Establishing a healthy dietary pattern when young is especially important, as dietary patterns tend to be brought into the next stage of life, where a poor dietary pattern can increase risk factors for chronic disease, or be passed onto the next generation, as children tend to follow the dietary patterns of their parents.
What is a good dietary pattern? In general, it is eating a diet of nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages across all food groups (Fruits, Vegetables, Proteins, Grains, Dairy (including fortified non-dairy) within calorie limits. For an average adult (2000 calorie diet), that would be 2 ½ cups of Vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6oz of grains (half refined, half whole), 3 cups of dairy, and 5 ½ oz of protein per day. A nutrient-dense food provides vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and has little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
Examples would be baked chicken, plain nuts, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, and whole fruits. What would make this a pattern? If your average lunch is something akin to a happy meal (Hamburger, Fries, and Soda), you may be consuming something with a much higher calorie, fat, and salt content than something that would be more filling and nutritious, such as a sandwich (Whole Bread, Baked Chicken, Lettuce, Tomato) and soup with water. Overtime, this becomes a pattern of eating. This pattern of eating could either reinforce a healthy lifestyle or set you up on the path towards chronic disease. Below you will be able to see how small changes to your favorite foods can make huge changes in the calories you consume.
The USDA also noticed while doing their research that Calcium, Potassium, Dietary Fiber, and Vitamin D were all under-consumed. This seems to be due to decreasing dairy intake (as well as lower dairy consumption later in life) and a lack of vegetable consumption in general. This is a big public health concern as a deficit in these key nutrients has been shown to lead to worse health outcomes. Vitamin D and potassium are crucial for optimal immune, mental, and general health. While calcium is crucial to build and maintain strong bones for physical activity. A lack of dietary fiber can lead to cholesterol and digestive issues. All these issues can compound as you get older, so it is important to begin early in life making sure that you are consuming a well-rounded diet when you are as young as possible!
It was also noted by the USDA while conducting their surveys that on average, children and adolescents consume 11% to 15% of their daily calories from added sugars. Most of these added sugars seem to come from non-nutritive beverages, such as soda and sweetened juices, that provide almost no nutrition. With that amount of your daily calories being taken up by non-nutritive items, it makes it almost impossible to meet your nutrition goals without going into calorie surplus, which is also unhealthy. It was highly recommended to focus drinks throughout the day on water, low-fat dairy, and nutritious drinks such as 100% juice with fiber (pulp) or healthy meal replacement drinks. Although some of these drinks will have some levels of sugar, they will also include fiber, protein, and other vitamins and minerals.
With all of this it could seem like a lot to do or handle to make sure you or your children are following an ideal dietary pattern. Fortunately, the USDA gave us some advice to help support healthy eating!
A major key is exposing young children to a variety of nutrient dense foods across all food groups at a young age. Exposing children to nutrient-dense foods when they are younger helps build a healthy dietary pattern as this is when children are forming their taste preferences. As you could imagine, starting children with a diet high in processed food, additional sugar, and oil or fat would develop taste preferences for similar things later in life. We know introducing kids to new foods, or nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, can be difficult as we have covered before! But the USDA did give some idea’s for expanding your little ones diet. They suggested offering the same type of foods in a variety of ways, or in different forms (Example: Carrots: Boiled, raw, as carrot chips or baby carrots, etc) as a way to gain acceptance of new food. Some children may accept the raw version and not a cooked version, or only like vegetables when cut in to bite size pieces. Remember that as long as they are consuming it a nutrient dense version (not covered in cheese, deep fried, etc) it is win!
The second major key mentioned was making sure that you’re the rest of your family is following a healthy dietary pattern as well. Since young children usually emulate the other people in your household, they will want to eat what ever you are having. Shared meals through shopping, cooking, and eating help establish and model healthy eating behaviors and practices. This become especially important as your child gets older, as they now have more dietary choice. If your whole family is following a nutrient dense diet, the only choices for your little ones will be nutrient dense food items for snacks and meals, leading to more healthy choices by default.
When we are young is when we form our food tastes and preferences and as we have seen it is crucial to form lasting connections to nutrient dense foods across all food groups in our youth. Not only will this help your little one be healthy when they are young, but it will help establish health for later in life and hopefully lead to a decreased risk of health problems later in life.
As you can see this can be a bit overwhelming! But fortunately the USDA has some good news. You can change your dietary patterns at any point in life, and normally you can reverse any or most of the damage made by a poor dietary pattern. It is important to remember when trying to improve your health to start with small, permanent life style changes. Such as maybe replacing most drinks when eating with water, a low-fat dairy product, or a nutrient dense meal replacement as opposed to a soda or sugar added juice. Or getting a baked protein with a meal instead of one that had been fried. These small changes will help correct poor dietary patterns that will make large differences in overall health outcomes. If you’d like to learn more, or read the full 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans click here and be sure to reach out to Bandit@Sneakz.com if you have any questions or comments about Sneakz products.