( USDA )

(UPDATED, July 16) Getting children under the age of two to consume a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables is critical to establish life-long habits.

That is one conclusion from a report by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which was released July 15.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are accepting written public comments at regulations.gov on the committee’s report through Aug. 13.

For the first time, the committee reviewed diet patterns of children under two years old, and included specific recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption for that age group.

“The findings confirm that a healthy diet during these life stages is essential to support healthy growth and development during infancy and childhood and to promote health and prevent chronic disease through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood,” the committee said.

More than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, and the prevalence of severe obesity has increased over the past two decades, the report said.

“The increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity at young ages is of particular concern because of their effects on the current health of the child as well as the risks of persistent overweight or obesity into adulthood,” according to the report summary.

The committee focused on “dietary patterns” as a centerpiece of its report, according to the executive summary, endorsing the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern, and the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Pattern. 

“These food patterns represent healthy dietary patterns in that they provide the majority of energy from plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds; provide protein and fats from nutrient-rich food sources; and limit intakes of added sugars, solid fats, and sodium.”

The committee said the typical diet Americans consume results in overconsumption of total energy, saturated fats, sodium, added sugars, and for some consumers, alcoholic beverages. At the same time, intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are lower than current recommendations, the committee said.

The committee’s report illustrates the considerable work needed to change American diets, Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, president and CEO of the  Produce for Better Health Foundation, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, nine out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, so PBH, along with its multi-sector network of members, is even more committed to addressing this consumption crisis and identifying innovative solutions to change behaviors for the future,” she said in the statement.

The committee’s scientific report shows strong evidence of the importance of diets rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement.

While not giving “concrete dietary patterns” for most children under two years old, she said the committee did emphasize the importance of serving fruits and vegetables during these early years.

“The committee made recommendations for all Americans to further reduce consumption of added sugars – a position that could in theory drive individuals to eat more whole and fresh-cut fruit as they shift for more nutrient-dense sweet alternatives,” she said in the statement.

While most Americans may not know much about the dietary guidelines, Van Lieu said they are “incredibly influential” in how nutrition standards are set in programs like the Women Infants and Children program and school meals, as well as food banks.
The Produce Marketing Association will partner with public, private, academic and non-profit communities to improve diets and begin to reverse the tide of chronic illness resulting from poor nutrition, according to a news release.

“At PMA, our vision is to grow a healthier world, with a focus on increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” PMA’s chief science officer Max Teplitski said in the release.  “We are encouraged by the appropriate emphasis on fruit and vegetable consumption in the report.”

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