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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: State’s kids have early start in healthy eating

The Columbian
Published: March 3, 2023, 6:03am

It probably comes as no surprise that children here tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than children in most states. Washington, after all, is one of the United States’ prime spots for agriculture production.

Still, at a time when childhood obesity has been declared an epidemic and when concerns about Americans’ eating habits warrant attention, it is worth acknowledging that Washingtonians’ diets are laudable.

Newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that among American children aged 1 to 5, about one-third do not eat fruit on a daily basis, approximately half do not eat vegetables daily, and more than half regularly drink sugary beverages.

That is a formula that, over the long term, has been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity and a variety of health problems. As the CDC writes about childhood health: “Obesity-related conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems.”

Breaking out the data by state, Washington kids are leading healthier lifestyles than most of their counterparts. Children in this state rank second in eating fruit on a daily basis, third in terms of eating vegetables and seventh in the lowest rate of sugary drink consumption.

Relatively high intake of fruits and vegetables fits in with the culture of the state. As of 2021, according to the publication Global Trade, Washington ranked second behind California in fruit and vegetable production.

(As an aside, while critics like to deride California as a dystopian wasteland filled with homeless communities and overrun by freeways, that state produces about two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.)

Washington, of course, is known as The Apple State, but our growers also lead the nation in the production of pears and cherries. Meanwhile, our scientists are consistently splicing together original and delicious varieties of tree fruit. For many of us, a childhood trip to the grocery store meant choosing between two types of apples — red or green; now the varieties seem endless (and we highly recommend the relatively new Cosmic Crisp).

Of course, there are factors behind childhood diets that go beyond whether or not your state grows a lot of apples. One is household income, with research consistently showing a connection between income and diet.

As The Seattle Times writes about the latest report: “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 percent did not get daily fruit. But among those in households that couldn’t always afford enough to eat, 46 percent did not get daily fruit.”

Part of the reason is that low-income neighborhoods often are “food deserts,” where finding a store that carries fresh fruits and vegetables can be a chore. While the nearest fully stocked grocery store might be miles away, it is likely that plenty of fast-food outlets are within easy reach.

High-income households also are more likely to have time to prepare nutritious meals, and are more likely to be well-educated about healthy diets.

In Washington, all those factors add up to a state where children eat relatively healthy. But there is plenty of room for improvement. Feeding your kids fruits and vegetables not only will fill them up in the meantime, but it will have lifelong benefits.