Childhood obesity has become a big problem in the US during the past three decades. Efforts have been made to improve the situation and identify problem areas in children's diets, but has this led to any progress?
A recent study has shown that while the intakes of solid fats and added sugars by children and adolescents has been declining, the decline had slowed as of 2010. Furthermore, the levels of intake found in 2010 were still far higher than the levels recommended by health professionals.
The calories from these dietary elements are sometimes called "empty calories" because they add calories to food without adding much in the way of nutrition. The overabundance of these empty calories from solid fats and added sugars has been connected to childhood obesity and other health problems.
Led by M.M. Slining, PhD, of the Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the study used data from five different national surveys that took place from 1994 to 2010. These surveys included a total of 17,268 participants between the ages of 2 and 18 years old.
The researchers examined the data for information about solid fats and added sugars, including daily intake levels and top sources.
Results showed a modest overall decline in the intakes of solid fats and added sugars. Average intakes went from 39 percent of total energy intake during the years 1994 to 1998 down to 33 percent during 2009 to 2010.
However, the decreases have seem to leveled off in recent years, and as of 2010, rates were no longer going down.
And despite prior declines, Dr. Slining and team found that the average intake of solid fats and added sugars by children and adolescents in 2010 was still far higher than the amounts recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Among the participants of this study, solid fats and added sugars accounted for an average of 33 percent of total energy intake in 2010. The recommended level is 5 to 15 percent.
It appeared that teens and children were getting about 18 to 28 percent more of their total calories from solid fats and added sugars than recommended.
The authors also reported, "Decreases in solid fat and added sugars intakes have primarily been due to reductions in added sugar intakes."
It was found that solid fats accounted for more calories in the study than did added sugars.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the top sources for added sugar include soft drinks, energy drinks, cookies and pastries and that some of the top sources for solid fats are butter, beef fat and shortening.
According to the results of this study, "The main sources of SoFAS (solid fats and added sugars) intakes over the 16-year period were SSBs (sugar-sweetened beverages), grain-based desserts, candy, ready-to-eat cereals, dairy-based desserts, milk, pizza, cheese, processed meats and fried potatoes."
The authors wrote that the reasons behind the modest declines of solid fats and added sugars levels cannot be determined from this study. They noted that declines may be affected by multiple factors, including an increase in initiatives to fight childhood obesity and changes in the economy and food prices during the recession.
The article was published online April 2 in the journal Pediatric Obesity. No conflicts of interest were reported.