(Reuters Health) - For U.S. children and teens, more than half of total fruit consumption comes from whole fruits, most commonly apples, new survey data show.

“My ultimate goal was to understand what kids are eating,” said lead author Kirsten A. Herrick of the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland.

“Only about 40 percent of U.S. youth meet the target for consumption on any given day,” Herrick told Reuters Health by phone.

Kids’ whole fruit consumption increased by 67 percent between 2003 and 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, but most kids still don’t get the recommended amount of fruit or vegetables, which ranges from one to two cups of fruit and one to three cups of vegetables per day, according to the CDC.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 3,000 kids and teens age two to 19 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Older kids told trained interviewers about all the foods they had consumed over the previous 24 hours. For younger kids, a proxy answered the survey questions.

On average, kids reported eating 1.25 cups of total fruit per day, almost 90 percent of which came from whole fruits or 100 percent fruit juices. The rest came from mixed dishes or “fruit drinks” with lower actual fruit content.

Kids age two to five consumed less whole fruit and more fruit juice than older kids, on average. Kids from white, Hispanic and Asian backgrounds all got more than half of their total fruit intake from whole fruits, while black youth got about 43 percent of their intake from whole fruit, the researchers reported in Pediatrics.

On the whole, apples accounted for about one-fifth of total fruit intake. Citrus, apple and other juices accounted for roughly 10 percent each, while bananas accounted for almost seven percent, melons for six percent and other fruits or fruit salads for about five percent.

Apples are easy to pack, palatable, and applesauce is introduced early on, Herrick noted.

The texture of the fruit and thickness of the skin may also play a role, said Eva Almiron-Roig, a Dietary Assessment Research Scientist at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, U.K., who was not part of the new study.

“Young children may find it difficult to chew a whole hard fruit, or eat it with the skin,” Almiron-Roig told Reuters Health by email. “There is also the issue about … whether soda may squeeze out fruit juice consumption in older children or in children from specific ethnic backgrounds.”

This analysis can’t say whether the current nature of fruit consumption for U.S. kids is good or bad, it can only document what is happening, Herrick said.

“Apples are slightly better than having apple juice, since whole fruit has fiber that juice does not have,” she said.

“We still need to strive to make sure kids are getting (the recommended amount) every day,” Herrick said.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1NH4g0D Pediatrics, September 21, 2015.