Nutrition | A high percentage of children and adolescents rarely consume pulses, fruits and vegetables
A joint study between the Social Debt Observatory (ODSA) of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) and the Center for Food Policy and Economic Studies (CEPEA), within the PISAC-COVID-19 project of the National Agency for the Promotion of Scientific Research, Technological Development and innovation.
The study investigated the frequency and incidence of consumption of recommended and non-recommended foods and compared responses to the recommendations of the Food Guides (GAPA) and those resulting from a recent CEPEA review that led to the design of sustainable baskets.
More than 70% of children and adolescents rarely consume legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits
Only 5% of children and adolescents (NNyA) simultaneously consume foods recommended by the Dietary Guidelines (GAPA) in frequent amounts (acceptable or sufficient). At the opposite extreme, 38% consume them, also at the same time, regularly or insufficiently.
The rest (57%) had an average quality diet where one or more of the protective or healthy food groups were consumed in amounts below the recommended levels. When any of these food groups—vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, dairy products, meat—registers at a low frequency of consumption, the diet loses quality, variety, or both.
The data corresponds to the analysis of the NNyA feed from the Argentine Social Debt Survey (EDSA) 2021, a collaboration between the Social Debt Observatory (ODSA) of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) and the Center for Food Policy and Economic Studies (CEPEA), in within the framework of the PISAC-COVID-19 project of the National Agency for the Promotion of Scientific Research, Technological Development and Innovation.
The study investigated the frequency and incidence of consumption of recommended foods (mentioned above) and non-recommended (soft drinks, sweet cookies and cakes) and compared responses to GAPA recommendations and those resulting from a recent CEPEA review that led to the design of sustainable baskets.
The biggest differences are seen in the consumption of legumes (and whole grains), vegetables and fruits: in all these groups, more than 70% of boys and girls overall have a low frequency of consumption. At the opposite extreme, the pattern of meat consumption reflects better results: even in households with a very low socio-economic level, the proportion of those approaching the recommendations is higher and even in some cases they have a high consumption pattern (mean ), 13% of NNyA).
The quality of food deteriorates as the socioeconomic level of households decreases.
The consumption of dairy products shows an acceptable pattern, especially when analyzing the quality of snacks: 90% of NNyA include them in some way (alone, in infusions or as yogurt). One third of dairy intake comes from milk in infusions (amounts of each component not recorded) and at the same time almost all (98%) of the breakfasts that combine dairy with another food group have bread or cereal as the main companion.
The study also analyzed the pattern of consumption of some typical foods among those not recommended and found that 27% and 15% of children and adolescents had a pattern of frequent consumption of soft drinks and sweets, two categories that are markers of excess sugar in children’s diets, in both cases with a tendency to worsen with the improvement of the socioeconomic level of the households.
Finally, the combined consumption pattern of the two types of food (recommended and non-recommended) was also analyzed, by means of a qualitative score that adds when the consumption pattern of the former is frequent and subtracts when the same happens with the latter. According to this criterion, 64% of children and adolescents have a low-quality model, with the greatest contribution being the infrequent consumption of protective foods.
The ODSA-UCA and CEPEA study reveals an alarming situation with children’s nutrition in 2021. Most children and adolescents show a consumption pattern incompatible with dietary recommendations, especially due to the inadequate frequency of three groups of foods that are usually deficient and of vegetable origin: vegetables, fruits and legumes (along with whole grains).
The deficit is much lower in dairy products and even lower in meat (a group where even local GAPA recommendations are higher than international recommendations). The infrequent consumption of protective foods is ultimately the one with the highest incidence of the low quality that characterizes children’s diets.