So Long, Sweets

American kids are eating fewer sugary products

Jun 03, 2013 | By Cameron Keady
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Families are working together to create more balanced and nutritious diets, with fewer sugary treats.

Do you have a sweet tooth? According to a recent report by the research organization NPD Group, Americans are cutting back on sugary foods and drinks. Today, on average, kids are eating and drinking sugary sweets 126 times less than they did in 1998.

“This change is about the family,” NPD Vice President Harry Balzer told TFK. “Families are altering their eating patterns.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier alternatives to pre-sweetened snacks.
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Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier alternatives to pre-sweetened snacks.

Sweet Survey

Since March 1, 1980, the NPD Group has been surveying households across the United States about how they eat. The study includes 5,000 people in 2,000 households. Families taking part in the survey keep a journal of their daily diets for two weeks. During that time, each individual keeps a tally on how many sweets and sugary treats he or she consumes.  

The study shows that a large percentage of Americans still satisfy their sweet tooth, but in smaller amounts. Nearly 98% of the adults and children surveyed still have at least one sweet, but only every two weeks. “It’s not a question of whether or not you’re going to have a sweet,” said Balzer. “It’s a matter of how frequently you’re going to have a sweet.” While there is no formal definition for what classifies a “sweet,” NPD selected 20 products to conduct the study. The list is expansive, ranging from cookies and brownies to fruit juice and yogurt. Kids today are eating cookies 8 times less than they did in 1998, and drinking fruit juice 16 times less.

Downward Trend

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of obese kids ages 6 to 19 tripled in the U.S. between 1980 and 2000. About 9 million children were excessively overweight.  Today, obesity rates are not falling, but they aren’t growing, either.  “There are three points to every trend,” said Balzer.  “There’s the movement upward, the leveling off, and the decline. Right now we’re [at the leveling off point].”

Schools nationwide are doing their part to put childhood obesity on a downward trend. Fried food has disappeared from many cafeteria menus. Whole-wheat bread has replaced white bread. Water and low-fat milk have replaced sugary beverages such as fruit punch, sports drinks, and soda. Many schools have also banned junk food and now require healthier snack options in their vending machines. These efforts, both at home and in school, are slowly putting kids on the right track for healthy eating.