Nutrition refers to the process by which the body ingests the necessary vitamins and minerals that are necessary for growth and development. The term is familiar to all of us, and it is something that we know to be of extreme importance to our health and happiness. It is the most basic goal of every one of our meals, and it is a mark that we need to consistently hit throughout our lives.
In the United States, nutrition is a primary responsibility of all the sectors of our society. Ensuring our children are properly nourished, in particular, is a social requirement that plays a direct role in our quality of life.
However, reports indicate that the country is failing at achieving that. Malnutrition, a condition that affects many people in developing countries, has a different face in the US, but it is equally as dangerous.
Nutrient Deficiency in the United States
According to the The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the current eating patterns of Americans do not align with the prescribed dietary guidelines for nutrition. An estimated three-fourths of our population consume insufficient amounts of dairy, health oil, fruits, and vegetables. About half of the population eat the right amount of grains and proteins, but are not eating enough of the recommended food subgroups of these groups. And most Americans consume too much added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.
How Does Malnutrition Affect Each Sector? Let’s look at this overview:
- Children: According to the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, around 13 million American children have limited access to food, and one in every three of them has to course their food access through a food stamp program. These two factors have significantly affected the way American kids get the nutrients they need for school and other aspects of their lives.
- Elderly: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 2,000 to 3,000 elderly adults in the US die each year because of malnutrition. This dire situation is mostly due to the fact that low-income elderly people usually have to choose between food and medications.
Why It Merits Our Attention
Nutrition is important in the development of children. Babies, in particular, have a higher need for getting the right nutrients and minerals compared to other people. This sets them up for full growth over the course of their lives; it is also worth noting that malnutrition during infancy exposes the child to physiological and cognitive issues later on in life.
In addition, nutrition affects school performance. The Louisiana State University says that children who live in homes that do not have enough access to food do not do as well in school as those who have their nutrition needs satisfied.
For adults and the elderly, nutrition ensures that we are able to do everything, including: 1.) taking care of duties and responsibilities, 2.) achieving our personal goals, 3.) combating risks for sickness and medical conditions, and 4.) improving our quality of life.
Nutrition also plays a direct role in the wellbeing of our whole community. Malnutrition and its offshoots such as nutrient deficiency, therefore, should be addressed properly.
The Need for A Better Approach to Nutrition
As a Society
Fortunately, the United States has made significant headway into bringing nutritious food to more people, especially those who need it. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, for instance, is the first of its kind in 30 years that is specifically designed to make sure that American children are eating right at school. Aside from that, the legislation has equipped the US Department of Agriculture with the ability to:
- Incorporate more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy into the National School Lunch Program
- Update snack-food standards in schools while preserving traditions such as fundraisers and bake sales; and
- Train schools in meeting new standards, as well as make reforms as necessary to satisfy guidelines
The USDA has also helped better shape nutrition for pregnant women and mothers through its Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children program. And the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest of the 15 domestic nutrition assistance programs in the country, continues to help low-income families and individuals with meeting their food needs.
All that said, however, it is still necessary to keep moving communities towards taking a more proactive role in ensuring everyone is getting enough nutrition. For instance, school districts may implement local programs that can edge out unhealthy snacks for children and replacing them instead with the recommended food groups.
Similarly, we can use helpful data in charting our approach to ensuring better nutrition for everyone. Reports say around 67% of calories consumed by Americans are purchased at grocery stores or supermarkets, and then eaten at home. Introducing opportunities to make better food choices, such as introducing a program that can motivate families to pack food from home or cook more at home, as examples, can do a lot to combat the problem.
As an Individual
How we approach nutrition as a society should be supplemented by making individual changes to the way we take it on in our own homes. For instance, a 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that as much as 75% of Americans are lacking in consuming a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Taking stock of your own health and checking whether your food choices are leading you to better health is a very effective way of ensuring you do not become a part of that statistic. If you do find that you are, resolving it can be as easy as incorporating more vitamin-D rich foods such as fortified milk and salmon into your diet.
Where you consume your food is also impactful in how much nutrition you can get out of it. If you are always on the go, the options you have for lunch or dinner may be rather constrained by factors such as proximity and budget. In this case, heading to the nearest fast food may be the most convenient choice. But you can opt to carry healthy food prepared at home with you to better ensure you’re eating healthy on the road.