A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report has found disturbing evidence that children under five are not getting their required nutrition and instead are consuming sugary drinks that damage health.

For the report, researchers surveyed the parents of more than 18,000 kids ages 1 to 5 in 2021. The survey attempted to find out the number of times the child ate fruit, and vegetables, and consumed sugar-sweetened beverages in the preceding week. The findings of the survey were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Thursday.

Almost half of the kids did not eat a vegetable every day and about a third did not eat a fruit every day, the report said. In addition to this, 57% of the kids drank a minimum of one sugary beverage that week.

Moreover, the decline in nutritional health increased with age. For instance, a 1-year-old was more likely to eat a fruit or vegetable every day and less likely to have a sugary drink than older kids, according to the researchers.

The differences were more pronounced when the survey was analyzed state-wise.

“This is the first time we’ve had state-level estimates on these behaviors,” Heather Hamner, senior author of the study and a senior health scientist at the CDC, said, CNN reported. “It’s a really good time to think about the programs and policies that states have in place and areas where they can continue to work and improve to make the nutrition environment the best it can be for our young children.”

As per the survey, Mississippi led the states by reporting the highest rate of children drinking at least one sugar-sweetened beverage in the preceding week, at nearly 80%. On the other hand, Maine had the lowest rate of sugary drink consumption at 38.6%.

Coming to fruits and vegetables, the CDC report said over half of the kids in 20 states did not consume a vegetable every day, considering the previous week.

Louisiana led the pack, where 60% of the children did not eat a vegetable daily and 50% of the children did not eat a fruit every day.

On the other end of the spectrum was Vermont, where parents reported the highest rates of regular fruit and vegetable consumption among kids.

The divide was not limited to states. The report found about 70% of parents of Black children reported their child drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during the preceding week.

“Compared with children living in food-sufficient households, those living in households with marginal or low food sufficiency were less likely to eat either a daily fruit or vegetable and were more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages during the preceding week,” the report said.

Concerned about the rise in consumption of sugary drinks, the report stated, “limiting or reducing foods and beverages higher in added sugars, including sugar-sweetened beverages, is important because added sugars are associated with increased risk of obesity, dental caries, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

The solution to changing these trends lies with the parents, Hamner said.

“We’ve found that it can take up to 10 times for a child to try a new food before they like it,” she said. “Continuing to try and expose young children to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is an important piece.”

According to CDC recommendations, children from ages 1 to 5 should consume half a cup to 2 cups of fruits and vegetables, depending on their age and caloric needs.