BOX 3-5

Benefits Associated with a Healthful Diet

  • A low-fat, low-saturated-fat, and low-cholesterol diet is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Fruits and vegetables supply fiber which binds to lipids such as cholesterol and decreases their concentration in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease. Increased consumption is also associated with lower caloric intake, lower percentage of calories from fat, and a lower BMI. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins A, C, and E that are essential for normal metabolism and may act as antioxidants, thus reducing the risk of developing certain cancers (including stomach, esophageal, lung, and colorectal cancers).

  • Diets that are moderate in salt help prevent high blood pressure.

  • Diets that are moderate in sugar help prevent tooth decay.

  • Calcium maintains healthy bones and teeth and plays a vital role in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood coagulation. Adequate calcium intake during childhood and adolescence is key to peak bone-mass development and the prevention of osteoporosis later in life.

SOURCES: IOM, 1997, 2002, 2004; USDA and DHHS, 2000.

Index (HEI) is a tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess diet quality in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of diet in the U.S. population. A low HEI score suggests a poor diet and is also associated with overweight and obesity (Guo et al., 2004). Thus, the use of the HEI and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a way to improve health should be emphasized. However, the overall effectiveness of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in disease prevention requires further research (Guo et al., 2004).

There are some indications of a small but significant increase in the average number of calories consumed daily by children over the last 15 to 20 years. The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, which examined changes between two time periods—1989-1991 and 1994-1996—in nationally representative samples of school-aged children, found an increase from 88 to 94 percent of the recommended energy allowance (Gleason and Suitor, 2001). Because no changes were seen in the energy intake from breakfast or lunch, the authors suggest that the increase was due to increased food consumption at dinner or in the form of snacks. Subsequent analyses of trends in energy intakes of children and youth have produced mixed findings (Enns et al., 2002; Nielsen et al., 2002; Sturm, 2005), and much remains to be learned about the dietary factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic in these groups.

Many challenges remain in conducting research on children’s dietary

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