Summary: Nutrition

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Nutrition

Learn More About Nutrition

Food Security
Physical Fitness
Why This Topic Is Important
Proper nutrition in childhood and adolescence promotes healthy growth and development (1). A nutritious diet over the life course can help prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure and can help reduce the risk of developing conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and dental cavities (1).

Eating breakfast can promote proper nutrition. Children who eat breakfast have higher daily intakes of key vitamins and minerals and tend to make healthier food choices throughout the day (2). In addition, eating a nutritious breakfast is associated with improved cognitive functioning, mood, and school attendance (1, 2).

Conversely, a poor diet can have long-term, negative health consequences (1). For example, consumption of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with higher risk of becoming overweight and obese (1, 3).
For more information on nutrition, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Childhood nutrition facts. Retrieved from:

2.  BreakfastFirst. (2013). The benefits of breakfast: Health and academics. California Food Policy Advocates. Retrieved from:

3.  Babey, S. H., et al. (2013). Still bubbling over: California adolescents drinking more soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research & California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2011-13, 62% of California public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs reported that they had eaten breakfast in the past day. Responses differed by grade, race/ethnicity, and gender. Specifically, 66% of 7th graders, 62% of 9th graders, and 61% of 11th graders in California reported that they ate breakfast in the past day. Non-traditional students (i.e., those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education) had the lowest percentage: 51% in 2011-13. In addition, 70% of both white and Asian students reported that they ate breakfast in the past day, the highest among racial/ethnic groups with data, while Hispanic/Latino students reported the lowest percentage (58%). A higher percentage of boys than girls in California reported eating breakfast in the past day overall and in each grade.

In 2011-13, 66% of elementary school staff in California reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that their school provided students with healthy food choices, the highest percentage among school types. Agreement was lowest among staff at non-traditional and K-12 schools (51%).

According to a 2013-14 California survey, about one-third (32%) of children ages 2-11 statewide ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables (excluding juice and fried potatoes) daily, compared to less than a quarter (22%) of youth ages 12-17. The survey also found that 41% of children and youth ages 2-17 ate fast food two or more times in the preceding week, similar to previous years. Among counties with data, estimates of children and youth consuming fast food at least twice weekly ranged from 5% to 59% in 2013-14.

According to the same survey, 42% of California children and youth drank sugary beverages on a daily basis, with county-level figures ranging from 20% to 63%. Sugary drink consumption also differs by age and race/ethnicity. Among youth ages 12-17, 59% reported drinking at least one sugar-sweetened beverage in the previous day, while parent reports for younger children were much lower, at 36% for ages 6-11, and 23% for ages 2-5. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, an estimated 68% of African American/black and 62% of Hispanic/Latino youth ages 12-17 consumed sugary beverages daily, compared to 55% for Asian, 54% for multiracial, and 56% for white youth.
Policy Implications
Lifetime dietary habits are established at a young age. School and community food and nutrition policies can encourage healthful choices, increasing the likelihood of long-term health (1, 2, 3). Student food intake needs to include a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Children and youth should minimize consumption of sugary beverages and fast food, which are linked to poor health outcomes, including unhealthy weight gain and obesity (1, 4).

Poor dietary habits have been shown to substantially affect student achievement, making nutrition a priority for school performance (2, 5). Many California schools participate in the federal School Breakfast Program, which, like the National School Lunch Program, subsidizes meals that are provided at little or no cost to low-income students. Although many children do not eat a daily nutritious breakfast at home, the School Breakfast Program is underutilized, particularly in comparison to the School Lunch Program (6).

Policy-related actions that could improve children’s consumption of healthy food include:
  • Utilizing authority under state and federal law to increase participation in child nutrition programs, including school breakfast, school lunch, summer food service, and at-risk afterschool meal programs; this includes implementing strategies such as making breakfast part of the school day and providing universal free school meals, which can be offered through federal provisions including Community Eligibility, where high-poverty schools can provide meals at no charge to all students (6, 7)
  • Increasing awareness among all school stakeholders—including parents, teachers, students, and administrators—about the links between healthful eating habits, weight, cognitive function, academic performance, and school finances; this includes incorporating nutrition education into health curricula for students (1, 2, 5)
  • Implementing and expanding programs that promote healthful eating during early childhood, such as trainings for child care providers on health and nutrition, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which helps provide nutritious meals and snacks to children in day care (7, 8)
  • Promoting cross-sector, comprehensive strategies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages and increase the availability of healthy, affordable food options for children and families, particularly in low-income communities; this may include attracting retailers of nutritious food (e.g., grocery stores) to locate in under-served areas, or increasing the availability of healthy options for children in restaurants and schools (3, 9)
  • Supporting efforts to implement common standards for marketing beverages and food to children and youth (3)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see the Research & Links section on or visit California Food Policy Advocates, BreakfastFirst, and the Food Research and Action Center. Also see Policy Implications on under the topics Family Income and Poverty and Food Security.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Childhood nutrition facts. Retrieved from:

2.  BreakfastFirst. (2013). The benefits of breakfast: Health and academics. California Food Policy Advocates. Retrieved from:

3.  Institute of Medicine. (2012). Accelerating progress in obesity prevention: Solving the weight of the nation. National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from:

4.  Babey, S. H., et al. (2013). Still bubbling over: California adolescents drinking more soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research & California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Retrieved from:

5.  Action for Healthy Kids. (2013). The learning connection: What you need to know to ensure your kids are healthy and ready to learn. Retrieved from:

6.  Hewins, J., & Rosso, R. (2017). School breakfast scorecard: School year 2015-2016. Food Research and Action Center. Retrieved from:

7.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2014). Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Retrieved from:

8.  California Food Policy Advocates. (2013). AB290 (Alejo): Foundations for healthy nutrition in child care. Retrieved from:

9.  American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on School Health & Committee on Nutrition. (2015). Snacks, sweetened beverages, added sugars, and schools. Pediatrics, 135(3), 575-583. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Nutrition