Trends in dietary intake among US 2- to 6-year-old children, 1989-2008

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Jan;113(1):35-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.08.022.


Background: Between 1989 and 2008, obesity increased markedly in children of all ages. We examined changes in the diets of children ages 2 to 6 years in the United States between 1989 and 2008. Our study provides new insight into diet changes that might have contributed to the sharp rise in obesity during this period.

Objective: Our aim was to describe changes in diet among 2- to 6-year-old children from 1989 to 2008 related to sharp rises in obesity during this period.

Participants: This analysis included 10,647 children ages 2 to 6 years from the following five nationally representative surveys of dietary intake in the United States: Continuing Survey of Food Intake in Individuals 1989-1991 and 1994-1998 and the What We Eat In America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2003-2004, 2005-2006, and 2007-2008. Diet data were categorized into groupings using the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill approach.

Statistical analyses: Analyses were carried out using a single 24-hour dietary recall with appropriate survey weighting. T tests were used to compare means across survey years, with P<0.05 considered significant.

Results: During the 20-year period, there were increases in per capita intake of savory snacks (+51 kcal; P<0.01), pizza/calzones (+32 kcal; P<0.01), sweet snacks and candy (+25 kcal; P<0.01), mixed Mexican dishes (+22 kcal; P<0.01), and fruit juice (+18 kcal; P<0.01), and total daily energy intake increased by 109 kcal (from 1,475 to 1,584 kcal) (P<0.05). Fruit intake increased marginally (+24 kcal; P<0.01). Six of the 10 greatest absolute changes in per capita intake between sequential survey years occurred between Continuing Survey of Food Intake in Individuals 1994-1998 and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2003-2004 (P<0.05).

Conclusions: Foods high in added sugars and solid fats, such as savory snacks, pizza/calzones, mixed Mexican dishes, sweet snacks and candy, and fruit juice, predominated the top changes in per capita consumption between 1989 and 2008.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data
  • Diet / trends*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Snacks
  • United States
  • Weight Gain


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Sucrose