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Today's Kids Eating More

By Judy McBride
August 11, 2000

Kids today are eating more—and getting more calories—than kids 20 years ago, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data on the food intakes of nearly 10,000 children nationwide.

Agricultural Research Service nutritionists combined data from a special 1998 nationwide survey of 5,559 children from birth to 9 years old with those from the 1994-96 national survey (CSFII) of all age groups, including 4,253 children to age 9.

The data table sets in PDF format (Table Set 17--Food and Nutrient Intakes by Children 1994-96, 1998) can be downloaded from the Internet.

According to Alanna Moshfegh and Sharon Mickle with ARS' Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Md., trends gleaned from the larger body of data generally concur with the 1994-96 findings. U.S. kids of all ages on average consumed more calories in the 90s than they did in the late 70s. Combined with a lack of adequate physical activity, the new data help explain why more kids are overweight than ever before.

Snacks contributed a significant percent of daily calories--around 20 percent, on average--for the 83 percent of kids who reported eating one or more snacks on the day they were surveyed. Among the most frequently reported snacks for the 9-and-under set were milk, fruits, cookies, candies, crackers, popcorn, pretzels and corn chips.

Soft drink consumption increased 21 percent among 2- to 5-year-olds over the last two decades and 37 percent among 6- to 9-year-olds. Both age groups also drank more fruit juices and fruit drinks--26 percent and 11 percent more, respectively. Milk consumption, on the other hand, dropped 4 percent among the preschoolers and 10 percent among the older group.

The good news: Most children surveyed--92 percent--ate breakfast.

As for individual nutrients, vitamin E, zinc, calcium, iron and vitamin B6 intakes were troublesome. Nearly two-thirds of the children failed to get the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for vitamin E and zinc. Half did not meet the RDA for calcium, and close to one-third fell short of the RDA for iron and vitamin B6.

ARS is the chief scientific arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contacts: Alanna Moshfegh and Sharon Mickle, ARS Food Surveys Research Group, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-0170 [Moshfegh], (301) 504-0341 [Mickle], fax (301) 504-0376,,