The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new advice regarding children and fruit juice, and it can be summarized in four words: Kids don’t need it.
In a position paper released yesterday in the journal Pediatrics, the organization states that fruit juice “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.” The AAP also recommends that children under one year of age not be given any juice at all.
The organization’s primary objection to juice is that it “lacks dietary fiber” and “can be consumed more quickly than whole fruit,” which “predisposes to excessive caloric intake.” The AAP also noted that “reliance on fruit juice instead of whole fruit to provide the recommended daily intake of fruit does not promote eating behaviors associated with the consumption of whole fruit.”
But despite this new advice from the nation’s leading pediatric medical organization, kids who rely on federal child nutrition programs will still be drinking too much juice for the foreseeable future.
That’s because federal child nutrition standards are intentionally aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), and the current DGAs permit consuming up to half of one’s daily fruit intake come from juice. Those guidelines aren’t due for revision until 2020 – at the earliest.
There’s also the issue of cost. As I noted my 2015 Civil Eats piece, “Why There’s So Much Sugar in Your Kid’s School Breakfast,” federal school breakfast rules now require that students be offered a full cup of fruit at breakfast, which sounds great on paper. But since the fruit mandate was unfunded by Congress, cost considerations led to a provision allowing schools to swap out 100% fruit juice for one half of the fruit. Because juice is cheap, shelf stable and popular with kids, most districts take full advantage of this loophole.
Similarly, while recent changes to federally-funded daycare nutrition standards were also laudable, they, too, still allow for the substitution of juice for a fruit or vegetable once a day.* In a subsequent Lunch Tray interview with then-USDA undersecretary Kevin Concannon about the new daycare food rules, Mr. Concannon was quite frank about the role of money in this decision: because of Congressional underfunding, a recommendation that kids get only whole fruits and vegetables instead of juice was relegated to an optional “best practice” instead of being an enforceable mandate.
The only clear alignment between the AAP’s new recommendations and federal child nutrition programs is with respect to infants. The AAP position paper says infants under one year of age should have no juice at all, and the revised federal daycare food rules also bar serving juice to infants. Similarly, since 2009 the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has prevented the use of WIC benefits to purchase juice for infants, though such benefits can be used to buy juice for toddlers and older children.
Whether the 2020-2025 DGA’s catch up to the AAP’s juice guidance remains to be seen, and even if they do, it likely will take even more time for those recommendations to trickle down into the regulations governing child nutrition programs.
But the biggest hurdle of all will be funding: if juice is taken off the table, Congress will have to come up with enough money for school districts and daycare operators to provide kids with what they really need: less juice and more whole fruits and vegetables.
[*Editorial update (5/23/17 at 11:40 CST): An earlier version of this post misstated the number of times a day juice may be served in federally funded daycare centers. Juice may only be served once a day. Thanks to reader Amanda Gallaher for the catch.]
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