When it comes to nutrition, a lot of Americans are starting off on the wrong foot.
According to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three kids ages one to five did not eat fruit every day, nearly half did not eat vegetables every day, and more than half drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once in the past week.
The data is also broken out by state and shows kids in some states have a much healthier diet than kids in others. Washington was among the states where kids, on average, were eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking fewer sugary drinks.
In fact, Washington ranked near the top for all three of the categories surveyed. Only about 19% of kids in the state did not eat fruit daily in the past week, which was the second lowest rate after Vermont. Around 35.5% of kids here did not eat vegetables daily, which ranked third lowest behind Vermont and Maine. And 46% of Washington kids had a sugary drink at least once in the previous week, which was the seventh lowest percentage, behind six East Coast states.
Vermont and Maine ranked in the top three across the board.
One state stands out from the pack for the high rate of kids with poor diets: Louisiana. The Pelican State was at the bottom both for children not getting fruits (50%) and vegetables (64%) daily, and it ranked fourth for the rate of kids drinking a sugary beverage in the past week at 70%. Mississippi had the highest percentage for kids having sugary drinks at 79%.
That might make it sound like states in the Deep South stood out for poor childhood nutrition, but that isn’t entirely true. For example, among the five states with the highest rates of kids not eating vegetables every day, two were in the Northeast: New Jersey (57%) and Rhode Island (56%).
The data comes from a CDC analysis of the 2021 National Survey of Children’s Health, which surveyed parents of more than 18,000 children. The information was collected through paper — and web-based questionnaires, which were available in English and Spanish, and the results were weighted by a number of factors, such as the child’s age and race/ethnicity.
The data shows that nationally, children’s nutrition gradually worsens as they age from one to five. For example, among one-year-olds, around 25% didn’t eat fruit and 44% didn’t eat vegetables every day. By the age five, the numbers increased to 36% for fruit and 53% for vegetables. A similar trend was observed for weekly consumption of sugary drinks, from 31% at age one to 72% at age five.
There were also significant differences along racial and ethnic lines. For example, just 26% of white children nationwide did not eat fruit every day, compared with 51% of Black children. The number was 27% for multiracial children, 34% for Hispanic children and 42% for Asian children.
And as with so many things, income was a major determining factor in the nutrition level of kids. Children from households that couldn’t always afford enough to eat ate significantly fewer fruits and vegetables. Among kids in households where parents said they could afford to eat good, nutritious meals, only 30% did not get daily fruit. But among those in households that couldn’t always afford enough to eat, 46% did not get daily fruit.
Washington is among the most affluent states. In 2021, the estimated median household income for a Washington family was $102,000, sixth highest among the states, according to census data.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.