- Children Drinking One or More Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Per Day
- Children Who Eat Five or More Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Daily, by Age Group
- Children Who Ate Fast Food Two or More Times in the Past Week, by Age Group
- Students Who Ate Breakfast in the Past Day, by Grade Level
- Healthy Food Choices Provided at School (Staff Reported)
- Student Demographics
- Food Security
- Physical Fitness
- Why This Topic Is Important
Proper nutrition in childhood and adolescence promotes healthy growth and development (1). A nutritious diet over the life course can help reduce the risk of developing conditions such as dental cavities, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer (1).
Eating breakfast can promote proper nutrition. Children who eat breakfast have higher daily intakes of key vitamins and minerals and tend to make healthier food choices throughout the day (2). Eating a nutritious breakfast also is associated with improved mood, cognitive functioning, and school attendance (1, 2).
Children in low-income households are at increased risk for food insecurity and poor nutrition, which can have long-term negative health consequences (1, 3, 4). For example, undernourishment can adversely affect children's cognitive development, and consumption of unhealthful foods (e.g., fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages) is linked to weight gain and obesity (1, 3, 4).For more information on children's nutrition, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Childhood nutrition facts. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
2. Hartline-Grafton, H. (2016). Breakfast for health. Food Research and Action Center. Retrieved from: https://frac.org/research/resource-library/breakfast-for-health
3. Hartline-Grafton, H. (2017). The impact of poverty, food insecurity, and poor nutrition on health and well-being. Food Research and Action Center. Retrieved from: https://frac.org/research/resource-library/hunger-health-impact-poverty-food-insecurity-poor-nutrition-health-well
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Get the facts: Sugar-sweetened beverages and consumption. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html
- How Children Are Faring
According to a 2015-2016 California survey, 40% of children and youth drank sugary beverages on a daily basis, with county-level figures ranging from 11% (Santa Cruz) to 62% (Merced and Napa) across regions with data. Sugary drink consumption also differed by age and race/ethnicity. For example, among youth ages 12-17, 58% reported drinking at least one sugar-sweetened beverage in the previous day, while parent reports for younger children were much lower, at 35% for ages 6-11, and 22% for ages 2-5. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, an estimated 66% of multiracial and 64% of Hispanic/Latino youth ages 12-17 consumed sugary beverages daily, compared to 55% for African American/black, 53% for white, and 43% for Asian youth.
According to the same survey, more than one-third (35%) of children ages 2-11 ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables (excluding juice and fried potatoes) daily, compared to about a quarter (26%) of youth ages 12-17. The survey also found that 43% of children and youth ages 2-17 ate fast food two or more times in the preceding week, similar to previous years. Among counties with data, estimates of children and youth consuming fast food at least twice weekly ranged from 7% (Marin) to 62% (San Benito) in 2015-2016.
According to 2015-2017 estimates, 72% of California 7th graders, 63% of 9th graders, and 60% of 11th graders had eaten breakfast in the previous day. Across grade levels statewide, boys were more likely than girls to report having breakfast. By comparison, only 45% of girls and 46% of boys in non-traditional programs had eaten breakfast in the past day. In general, estimates of eating breakfast were lowest for students with low levels of school connectedness and those whose parents did not finish high school (52% and 56%, respectively), and increased as levels of school connectedness and parent education improved. In 2015-2017, around half of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in California ate breakfast in the previous day, compared with about two-thirds of students in other groups.
During the same period, 31% of responses by elementary school staff in California indicated strong agreement that their school provided students with healthy food choices. Strong agreement was lowest among responses by high school staff (21%), followed by middle school (24%) and non-traditional school staff (25%).
- Policy Implications
Nutrition during childhood, from the prenatal stage on, influences lifelong health (1). The childhood years also are a critical time for establishing long-term dietary habits. Public policy, school practices, and community strategies can improve access to nutritious food and encourage healthy choices (2, 3, 4). Children and youth need a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as adequate water (2). Health experts also recommend minimizing consumption of solid fats, sodium, and added sugars (e.g., sugary beverages and fast food), which are linked to negative health outcomes (2).
Schools are well-positioned to educate children about nutrition and promote healthy habits. Poor diets and undernutrition have been shown to substantially affect student achievement, making nutrition a priority for school performance (2, 3, 5). Children in poverty are particularly vulnerable to poor nutrition (3, 4). Federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the School Breakfast Program offer vital support for low-income children and families, although many of these programs continue to be underutilized in California (3, 5, 6).
Options to improve nutrition for children include:
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see the Research & Links section on kidsdata.org or visit California Food Policy Advocates and Food Research and Action Center. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Family Income and Poverty and Food Security.
- Promoting policies and practices to ensure adequate nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and toddlers, as nutrition during this phase plays a key role in children's neurodevelopment and long-term health; for example, preserving and strengthening public nutrition programs (e.g., WIC), and ensuring that health care providers are trained on nutrition issues and are able to refer families to appropriate support services (1, 3)
- Supporting, improving, and ensuring effective implementation of programs and policies to promote nutrition in child care and early education settings, such as the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, which provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in day care (7, 8)
- Maximizing opportunities to increase participation in public nutrition programs, including SNAP (CalFresh in California), school breakfast, school lunch, afterschool nutrition, and summer food service; for example, encouraging schools to offer breakfast after the start of the school day and to provide free meals for all students, which can be fully reimbursed for high-poverty schools through service options such as the Community Eligibility Provision (3, 5, 6)
- Increasing awareness among all school stakeholders—leaders, teachers, students, families, community members, and others—about the links between nutrition, weight, cognitive function, academic performance, and school finances; this includes incorporating nutrition education into health curricula for students (5, 9)
- Promoting cross-sector, comprehensive strategies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages and increase the availability of healthy, affordable food options for children and families, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color; for example, attracting retailers of nutritious food (e.g., grocery stores) to locate in under-served areas, or advocating for restaurants to remove sugary drinks from children's menus and to meet the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell nutrition guidelines (4, 8, 10)
- Continuing efforts to increase responsible marketing of food and beverages to young people (11)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Schwarzenberg, S. J., et al. (2018). Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics, 141(2), e20173716. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/141/2/e20173716
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Childhood nutrition facts. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
3. Food Research and Action Center. (2017). The role of the federal child nutrition programs in improving health and well-being. Retrieved from: https://frac.org/research/resource-library/hunger-health-role-federal-child-nutrition-programs-improving-health-well
4. PolicyLink, & Marguerite Casey Foundation. (2016). An equitable food system: Good for families, communities, and the economy. Retrieved from: https://www.policylink.org/find-resources/library/casey-equal-voice-series-equitable-food-system
5. Girouard, D., et al. (2019). School breakfast scorecard: School year 2017-2018. Food Research and Action Center. Retrieved from: https://www.frac.org/research/resource-library/school-breakfast-scorecard-2017-2018-school-year-february-2019
6. Food Research and Action Center. (n.d.). State of the states: Profiles of hunger, poverty, and federal nutrition programs. Retrieved from: https://www.frac.org/research/resource-library/state-of-the-states-profiles?post_type=resource&p=4483&state=California
7. Fox, T., et al. (2017). Early care and education policies and programs to support healthy eating and physical activity: Best practices and changes over time. Healthy Eating Research. Retrieved from: http://healthyeatingresearch.org/research/early-care-and-education-research-review-2010-2016
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Healthy food environments. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/strategies/healthy-food-env.html
9. California Food Policy Advocates. (2016). School nutrition for academic success: A LCAP guide. Retrieved from: https://cfpa.net/school-nutrition-for-academic-success-a-lcap-guide
10. Ribakove, S., et al. (2017). Soda on the menu: Improvements seen but more change needed for beverages on restaurant children's menus. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved from: https://cspinet.org/kidsbeveragestudy
11. Mancini, S., & Harris, J. (2018). Policy changes to reduce unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children in 2016 and 2017. UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Retrieved from: http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/files/Pdfs/Food%20marketing%20policy%20brief_Final.pdf
- Websites with Related Information
- Action for Healthy Kids
- CDC Healthy Schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest
- Child and Adolescent Nutrition: Professional Resource Guide. Maternal and Child Health Digital Library.
- Child Nutrition Sharing Site. Institute of Child Nutrition & U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Dept. of Health and Human Services.
- Food Research and Action Center
- Healthy Eating and Nutrition Education. California Dept. of Education.
- Healthy Eating Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- Healthy Food Access Portal. PolicyLink, et al.
- Kick the Can: Giving the Boot to Sugary Drinks. Public Health Advocates.
- Nourish California
- Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative. California Dept. of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division.
- Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch. California Dept. of Public Health.
- Nutrition Policy Institute. University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
- Nutrition.gov: Food and Nutrition. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
- Public Health Advocates
- Roots of Change. Public Health Institute.
- Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. University of Connecticut.
- Key Reports and Research
- Access to Food in Early Care Continues to Decline. (2019). Nourish California. Homel Vitale, E.
- Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. (2018). Pediatrics. Schwarzenberg, S. J., et al.
- Early Care and Education Policies and Programs to Support Healthy Eating and Physical Activity: Best Practices and Changes Over Time. (2017). Healthy Eating Research. Fox, T., et al.
- Effective Access to Drinking Water in Schools. (2021). Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
- Equitable Food Systems Resource Guide. PolicyLink.
- Free School Meals for All Here to Stay in California. (2021). EdSource. Tadayon, A.
- Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents. (2019). Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Obesity, Committee on Nutrition, and American Heart Assocation.
- School Breakfast Program. Food Research and Action Center.
- School’s Out…Who Ate? A Report on Summer Nutrition in California. (2017). California Food Policy Advocates. Fischer Colby, A.
- Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools. (2015). Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on School Health & Committee on Nutrition.
- Soda on the Menu: Improvements Seen But More Change Needed for Beverages on Restaurant Children's Menus. (2017). Center for Science in the Public Interest. Ribakove, S., et al.
- Sugary Drink FACTS 2020. (2020). Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Harris, J. L., et al.
- The Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Children’s Health: An Updated Review of the Literature. (2018). Healthy Eating Research. Bleich, S. N., & Vercammen, K. A.
- The Healthy Communities Study: Examining Community Programs, Policies and Other Characteristics in Relation to Child Weight, Diet, and Physical Activity. (2018). Pediatric Obesity. Kumanyika, S. K. (Ed.)
- The Role of the Federal Child Nutrition Programs in Improving Health and Well-Being. (2017). Food Research and Action Center. Hartline-Grafton, H.
- Trends in Food Sources and Diet Quality Among U.S. Children and Adults, 2003-2018. (2021). JAMA Network Open. Liu, J., et al.
- Trends in Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among California Children. (2020). Public Health Nutrition. Beck, A. L., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. Orange County Children's Partnership.
- Community Health Improvement Plan for Los Angeles County 2015-2020. Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area. (2017). Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- San Mateo County All Together Better. San Mateo County Health.
- Santa Clara County Children's Data Book. Santa Clara County Office of Education, et al.
- Santa Clara County Public Health Department: Open Data Portal
- More Data Sources For Nutrition
- California Health and Human Services Open Data Portal. California Health and Human Services Agency.
- California Health Interview Survey. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
- California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys Public Dashboards. WestEd & California Dept. of Education.
- Health, United States, 2019 – Data Finder. National Center for Health Statistics.
- Map the Meal Gap. Feeding America.
- National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) National Center for Health Statistics.
- Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity: Data, Trends, and Maps. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- SNAP-Ed County Profiles. California Dept. of Public Health.
- State and County Nutrition Profiles. Nourish California.
- State of the States: Profiles of Hunger, Poverty, and Federal Nutrition Programs. Food Research and Action Center.
- U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: Data Products
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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