Children's Eating Behaviors

November 9/Chicago/States News Service -- A new survey by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Foundation has found many children are snacking more frequently but are skipping breakfast and dinner-meals that contain nutrients crucial to their development and health. Results from the "2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey" were released at ADA's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston.

"Research has shown that malnutrition is a serious concern for many U.S. children -- regardless of their weight -- and if children are skipping major meals with higher nutrient content it can affect their ability to learn, as well as their behavior and their development," said registered dietitian Dr. Katie Brown, the national education director for the ADA Foundation.

According to Brown, studies have linked children who skip breakfast to increased absenteeism, tardiness, poor attention to tasks and reduced test scores. The 2010 survey revealed that breakfast is not eaten all of the time by 42% of Caucasian children, 59% of African-American children and 42% of Hispanic children. Additionally, 12% of Caucasian, 18% of African-American and 12% of Hispanic children reported never or rarely having breakfast.

The survey results also indicated that dinner was not eaten all of the time by 22% of Caucasian children, 34% of African-American children and 38% of Hispanic children. Also, those who never or rarely eat dinner include 3% of Caucasian children, 5% of African-American children and 5% of Hispanic children.

The ADA Foundation's 2010 survey -- following up on a 2003 survey -- asked 1,193 pairs of parents and their children ages 8-17* about their nutrition knowledge, eating habits and physical activity, as well as parents' awareness of their children's attitudes and behaviors.

Skipped meals, according to the survey results, are often supplemented through snacking. Over half of the respondents (56.7% of Caucasian children, 57.8% of African-American children and 59.1% of Hispanic children) reported eating directly after school most of the time or all of the time. Children also report snacking in the evening after dinner (26% of Caucasian children, 26.3% of African-American children and 24.3% of Hispanic children) or while watching television (23.1% of Caucasian children, 30.1% of African-American children and 23.8% of Hispanic children) either all of the time or most of the time.

The fact that children snack throughout the day provides an opportunity for parents and schools to offer nutrient-rich snacks to supplement any missed meals, and provide quality nutrition for our children," Brown said.

"We also learned from the survey that families are interested in meeting with registered dietitians -- professionals with the expertise essential to success -- who can teach families how to create both snacks and meals rich in those nutrients critical to a child's healthy growth and development. So, while the survey revealed challenges, it also revealed opportunities," Brown said.

Other significant findings of the ADA Foundation's survey include:

Since 2003, there has been a significant increase of daily family meals eaten at home, from 52% in 2003 to 73% in 2010. Additionally, 72.9% of children are eating at home on all five school nights, compared to 51.9% in 2003.

A majority of families are not eating at fast food or sit-down restaurants often, with 51.4% of Caucasian, 56.5% of African-American and 63.8% of Hispanic kids reporting that their families eat there less than once a week or never.

Parents and children alike are interested in meeting with registered dietitians, with 36.4% of Caucasian, 56.5% of African-American and 69.6% of Hispanic parents interested in meeting with an RD to learn how to prepare a meal; and 35.3% of Caucasian, 53.4% of Hispanic and 70.3% of African-American parents interested in meeting with an RD to discuss how food affects their children's health.

Parents ranked registered dietitians and doctors as very reliable sources for information about healthy eating and being physically active, more than other sources.

Top reasons parents are interested in meeting with registered dietitians focus on feeding their families-preparing healthy meals, which foods their children should be consuming more often, grocery shopping and reading food labels, and how food affects health.

The survey revealed that 56% of Caucasian, 75% of African-American and 65% of Hispanic children eat from the school lunch line. Children from low income homes have the highest rate of consuming school lunch (82-89%).

*In 2010, a total of 1,193 parent and child pairs were surveyed within three population samples: 754 pairs of children and parents who are representative of the U.S. population, 209 African-American pairs and 230 Hispanic pairs. For race comparisons, a random sampling of 420 Caucasian child-parent pairs was taken from the general population sample.

The American Dietetic Association Foundation's Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey was fielded in February of 2010 by the independent custom survey research company Knowledge Networks. Survey results were released by the ADA Foundation in November of 2010, more information can be found at

From the November 29, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition