Ethnic Differences Can Impact Children’s Eating Preferences

October 14, 2016

Healthy eating patterns are linked to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. While these diseases are often thought of as “adult diseases,” there has been an increase in the number of diagnoses for children and adolescents over the last few decades, especially among ethnic minorities. As health and wellness professionals it’s important to know what your clients are eating so you can tailor education to address ethnic disparities. National Dairy Council's research team conducted a study to find out.

Between 1960 and 2005, the percentage of American children with a chronic disease nearly quadrupled in number, with ethnic minority youth being affected disproportionately. In 2010, about 215,000 American children were diagnosed with diabetes (Type 1 and 2), and since 1980, the number of American children and adolescents who are obese has nearly tripled. According to the Census Bureau, in 2014 Non-Hispanic White children made up 52 percent of the population, however projections indicate that by 2060 only 36 percent of the children in the U.S. will be Non-Hispanic White and 64 percent of children will belong to ethnic minorities.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provide general nutrition recommendations for Americans ages 2 and older to promote health and decrease the risk of chronic disease. However, diversity in ethnicity and culture brings a diversity in eating patterns, which, if not considered, could result in certain groups not meeting or further exacerbating shortfalls in dietary recommendation and increase their risk for chronic diseases.

In order to answer the question of what children from different ethnic backgrounds are eating in America, the study compared the recommended and usual consumption of food groups and nutrients of public health concern in Non-Hispanic Whites, Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics and Asian children using data from the dietary component of the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Education Survey (NHANES). The findings of this research will be presented at the upcoming Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston on Sunday, October 16, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you can’t make it to Boston below are some key highlights from this study:

Food group consumption by American children, overall (regardless of ethnicity):

  • 94 percent of all American children did not meet vegetable recommendations.
  • 55 percent did not meet protein food recommendations.
  • 67 percent were not eating adequate fruit and dairy.
  • Only about 1 percent of American children ate the recommended amount of whole grains.

Protein Consumption by Ethnicity:

  • Over 60 percent of Non-Hispanic White children were not meeting recommendations for protein foods, whereas only 41 percent Non-Hispanic Black children did not meet this recommendation.

Dairy Consumption by Ethnicity:

  • Non-Hispanic Black and Asian children had a greatest percentage of children not meeting dairy recommendations (84 percent and 72 percent, respectively).

Calcium:

  • Over 50 percent of Non-Hispanic Black children are not meeting the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for calcium.
  • Calcium consumption by Non-Hispanic Black children was significantly lower than the consumption of Non-Hispanic White and Hispanic children.
  • While Non-Hispanic White and Hispanic children were better at meeting the EAR for calcium, in both of these groups 30 percent of the population was still not meeting the recommendation.

Vitamin D:

  • Over 80 percent of all children did not meet the EAR for vitamin D.
  • Non-Hispanic Black children had a significantly larger percentage of the population not meeting the EAR than other ethnicities.

In summary, these data show regardless of ethnicity, children are not meeting dietary recommendations. Ethnic disparities exist when it comes to meeting the EAR for nutrients of public health concern with Non-Hispanic Black children faring the worst. Novel, and potentially targeted, intervention programs that are culturally tailored to address various ethnic groups are needed to help empower children to improve overall health and meet nutrient and food group recommendations. 

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