It makes perfect sense that kids who sleep well perform better, whether in the classroom, on the ball field, or simply throughout the day. There’s evidence it can even help them eat less and weigh less. In a 3-week study published in Pediatrics, researchers looked at how changing the amount of sleep 37 8- to 11-year-old kids got affected their reported food intake and body weight. During week 1, children slept their usual amount at home. Then they were randomized to either increase or decrease their time in bed by 1.5 hours each night for 1 week. Then they did the opposite over the third and final week of the study. Researchers found that when kids increased their sleep time, on average they decreased their daily calorie intake by 134 calories. Their weight was also 0.22 kg (almost half a pound) lower during the increase sleep than the decrease sleep condition.
According to Chantelle Hart, PhD, the lead author of the Pediatrics study, “We know that a good nights’ sleep is associated with a number of benefits for children across domains of functioning, including memory and learning, mood and behavioral disturbances.” Hart also says the study findings suggest that a good night’s sleep may confer other benefits to children in terms of eating and weight regulation.
Hart, an associate professor of public health at the Center for Obesity Research & Education at Temple University, suggests that parents help their kids keep a similar sleep schedule throughout the week and on weekends, and to have a consistent bedtime routine each night. She adds, “Limiting screen time and caffeine prior to bed are also recommendations we provide to families.”
Although the role sleep plays in food intake and body weight has yet to be deciphered, any parent knows how vital it is for kids—and for them—to get adequate sleep. Here are some suggestions for parents to help kids get the sleep they need, when they need it, from David Katz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity journal, author of Disease Proof and father of five:
1. Be the parent. What if your kid REALLY wanted to try cocaine, or play in traffic? As parents, it’s our job to make and enforce rules that protect our kids. The only reason we find it hard to do this with regard to sleep, food, or exercise, is because we are ambivalent. If these are priorities for us, and we consistently treat them as such, our kids no more need to argue with us, let alone win, than they would about drugs, or skipping school, or…whatever.
2. Be reasonable. Younger kids need rules and guidance; older kids need options so they feel they are getting the respect they deserve and autonomy they need. Our teens always stayed up very late and slept in on weekends; we let them choose the pattern that suited them best—with a different pattern on school nights. Make and enforce the rules you need and avoid rules you don’t need so that your kids know (A) the rules are reasonable, and (B) when there is a rule, it IS a rule, and has to be treated as such.
3. Allow for experimentation. I had a poster in my dorm room in college: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment! There is no substitute for experiential learning. Our job as parents is to protect our kids from bad judgment with irrevocable consequences—but allow for dabbling in using bad judgment vital to learning. So, we would let our kids have an occasional night to stay up as late as they wanted—and get way too little sleep—and see how they felt the next day. The experience of feeling exhausted and cranky said more about the importance of sleep than we could. That becomes a ‘see, I told you!’ kind of teachable moment, and makes the case better than words can.
4. Leave room for negotiation. As kids grow, there will be a lot of negotiation—and that’s OK. We parents have to decide where to give more ground, and where to give less. Any set of rules is easier to enforce if your kids know your rules aren’t arbitrary, and that you are prepared to negotiate in good faith, taking their priorities into account. Whenever my kids have disliked a rule of mine, I have found it very helpful to be able to say: we both know I listen to you, and often give in. When I don’t give in, it’s because I think it’s really important. If that give-and-take is combined with ‘being the parent,’ it’s a pretty tough formula for a kid to renounce.
For more expert tips to help your kids get more—and better—sleep, check out my previous Parents.com post.
How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?
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We all know French fries and potato chips—unless you make and bake them in the comfort of your own kitchen—are typically loaded with calories, fat and sodium. But did you also know they can be a source of acrylamide?
First detected in food in 2002, acrylamide is a chemical that forms when sugars and asparagine (an amino acid) that are naturally found in plant-based foods including potatoes combine when those foods are fried, baked or boiled at high temperatures. Acrylamide formation can occur in foods prepared at home or at restaurants, or when foods are prepared commercially.
Scientists believe that high levels of acrylamide cause cancer in animals and may prove to do the same in humans as well. In fact, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) characterize acrylamide as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also believe acrylamide is a “probable human carcinogen.”
Besides potatoes, sources of acrylamide in the diet include cereals (and cereal-based foods), coffee, crackers or breads, and dried fruits. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), acrylamide does not form, or forms at lower levels, in dairy, meat and fish products.
To help growers, manufacturers, and food service operators reduce acrylamide in products that are susceptible to its formation, the FDA issued draft guidance. And sometime in 2014 they plan to release data on how much acrylamide is found in food to help both food manufacturers and consumers have a better sense of where it lurks and to how to reduce exposure when eating and creating foods.
In the meantime, if you want to reduce your child’s exposure to acrylamide (not to mention your own), here are some recommendations* from the FDA:
1. If frying frozen French fries, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
2. Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color.
3. Cook cut potato products such as frozen French fries to a golden yellow rather than a brown color.
4. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or panty. (Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can increase the formation of acrylamide during cooking).
5. Follow current Dietary Guidelines for Americans by including in the diet plenty of produce, whole grains, far-free or low-fat milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts. And choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.
Until we know more about which foods in the food supply contribute any—or a lot of—acrylamide, it’s wise to be prudent when trying to minimize exposure to it and to enhance the overall quality of your child’s diet. As I always say in The Scoop on Food, mixing up the foods you offer your family can maximize nutrient intake and minimize any potential negatives associated with specific foods. Offering plenty of fresh, whole foods that are healthfully prepared and choosing fast food French fries, potato chips and other nutrient-poor foods on occasion rather than often can also help. It’s also important to use more healthful, lower fat cooking methods in general, and to use less heat to cook potatoes and other foods. (Cooking meats, fish and poultry at lower temperatures—but safe temperatures at which they’re fully cooked—and for less time can help minimize the formation of cancer-causing chemicals like heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.)
*Source: FDA Consumer Updates.
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Although fast-food is often blamed for contributing tons of empty calories to kids’ diets, it’s just one source. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that while 34.6% of calories consumed by kids from fast-food restaurants (including pizza home delivery, restaurant food, and food from vending machines and sports/recreation facilities) did, in fact, come from solid fats and added sugars (collectively referred to as SoFAS), foods consumed from stores (including supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores) and schools (including school cafeterias and child-care centers) were similar to fast foods in their SoFAS content, with SoFAS contributing 33.2% of calories from stores and 31.2% of calories from schools. These findings came from an analysis of national survey data of dietary intake collected between 1994 and 2010 from more than 22,000 children aged 2 to 18.
In another study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the same researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill analyzed the dietary intake of more than 3,000 children aged 2 to 18 in 2009-2010. Similar to the findings from the 1994-2010 analysis, this study revealed that empty calories account for 35% of kids’ calories from fast-food restaurants, 33% of calories from stores, and 32% of calories from schools. Interestingly, store-bought foods contributed significantly more daily empty calories (an estimated 436 calories) from sugar and solid fat to kids’ diets than either school foods or fast foods. The researchers explained that the highest calorie load derived from store-bought foods was due to the fact that almost all kids reportedly consumed them daily, whereas only 32% or 24% reported they consumed fast food or school food, respectively, on any given day.
When they looked at the biggest contributors of empty calories in kids diets based on location, the researchers found the top sources derived from stores were sugar-sweetened beverages, grain desserts, and high-fat milk. High-fat milk, grain desserts, and pizza were the top empty calorie contributors at schools, and sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy desserts, French fries, and pizza were the top sources derived from fast-food restaurants.
According to the researchers, “Efforts to reduce children’s consumption of empty calories must be made across multiple locations—not just at fast-food restaurants, but also at stores and schools.” They also single out high-fat flavored milk, grain desserts, and pizza as foods—top contributors of empty calorie intake by kids when they’re at school—that should be targeted as the new federal nutrition standards for school meals are implemented.
To help kids eat better, it’s important for parents to empower them to make more healthful choices—especially because they increasingly make food choices on their own when they’re away from home. Teaching kids how to read food labels and to identify—and choose—appropriate food portions to meet, but not exceed, their needs can also help. It’s also important to teach kids which foods and beverages can be considered everyday foods or dietary staples, and which ones should be considered as occasional or once-in-a-while foods. Eating as a family at home more often, modeling healthy eating habits and food choices, and offering a variety of options prepared in an appealing way—and getting kids involved in grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation or cooking often—can also help. Being exposed to nutritious foods and learning to prefer such foods, especially from an early age, can help them want to make better and more informed decisions down the road— whether they’re at school, at the deli, at a fast-food restaurant, or at a stadium to watch their favorite basketball team in action. Setting them up for success won’t guarantee they’ll always make the most nutritious choice, but it will point them in a more healthful direction.
How do you help your kids cut some empty calories from their diets?
Find healthy finger food recipes your tot will actually eat with our easy guide. Plus, learn how to make baby food right at home!
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Artificial trans fats—fats that are created during hydrogenation (a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid)—are once again making headlines. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration announced today that it no longer considers partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the major dietary source of trans fat in processed food—to be safe. They came to this conclusion citing a link between trans fat intake and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Previous public health concerns about trans fats led the FDA to propose in 1999 that manufacturers be required to list trans fats on Nutrition Facts labels. Seven years later, that requirement became effective, though many food companies had stepped up to remove trans fats prior to then—a move that many consumers (including my dad who once even made his own t-shirt that said NO TRANS FATS on it to taunt his dietitian daughter) appreciated. In their announcement, the FDA also cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimation that taking steps to reduce trans fat in the food supply even more can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.
According to the FDA announcement, if their preliminary determination that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe” is finalized, PHOs will become food additives and would require premarket approval by the FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives would then be considered adulterated and could not be legally sold.
Hailed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest as “a major step in protecting consumers from artificial trans fat, a potent cause of heart disease,” the FDA announcement is likely to send food manufacturers who haven’t already done so to remove trans fats from their product lines.
Although fat has important functions in the body—it helps insulate and cushion your vital organs, and carries around important vitamins (including vitamins A, D, E and K) so that they can be better absorbed and used by the body—too much can contribute to excess calorie intake and promote heart and other diseases. While eventual removal of unhealthy trans fats from the marketplace can be a step in the right direction, here are 5 tips to help you and your kids be more fit when it comes to your fat intake right now:
1. Follow the rules. According to current dietary guidelines for Americans, children and adults aged 2 and older should aim for no more than 20 to 35% of their total calories from fat. For a child who consumes 1,400 calories daily, that’s about 31 to 54 grams. For an adult who consumes 2,000 calories daily, that’s about 44 to 78 grams.
2. Emphasize healthful fats. Use olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils that are rich in monounsaturated fat to make popcorn* or to otherwise cook with; add avocado to salads or sandwiches or use it to make a dip for vegetables or whole grain crackers; and have nuts* and seeds* as part of a snack (with dried fruit and whole grain cereal, for example) or add them to oatmeal or low fat yogurt.
3. Skim the fat. Too much saturated and trans fats can increase heart disease risk—especially if that means you’re consuming more total calories than you need for growth (in the case of children) or weight management (in the case of adults). To limit total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, choose low- or non-fat dairy foods, lean meats, skinless white meat poultry, and fish prepared in healthful ways (rather than battered and/or fried). Limit or avoid fried potatoes and other fried foods (choose roasting or baking instead). Limit portions and the frequency with which you eat high fat foods (fatty meats, margarine, fatty snack foods like chips and popcorn, and baked goods like cookies and cakes). Eating out less often and choosing appetizer-size portions or meals from so-called healthier menus can also save you some fat and calories.
4. Become label savvy. Learn to read Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredients lists on food labels. A food that’s low in fat has 3 grams or less per serving; a food that’s low in saturated fat has 1 gram or less per serving; and a food that’s really free of trans fat free has 0 grams listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel AND does not list any “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list.
5. Buyer beware. Just because a food does not have trans fats does not mean it’s low in fat or that it’s healthy. That’s why it’s important to read between the lines, especially when purchasing packaged and processed foods. If it’s hard for you and your kids to identify which food group an item comes in (as an example, think of your favorite donuts or cookies), it’s likely this food should be thought of as an occasional or once-in-a-while treat rather than a dietary staple.
*These foods are choking hazards for children under age 5.
Check out the 20 Best Snacks for Kids (and parents), then download our Homemade Baby Food Guide to make meals for her at home.
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Despite the widespread availability and excessive marketing of highly palatable, nutrient-poor food in America, there are some signs that the times are, indeed, changing. And that help from consumer-driven petitions, parents (including the First Mom) and even puppets are leading the charge towards healthier options and better eating habits for our children.
Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kraft announced its plan to unveil in early 2014 several macaroni and cheese varieties made without controversial artificial dyes. Instead of having Yellow 5 and 6 as ingredients, the revamped Kraft products (minus the popular elbow-shaped “original” macaroni and cheese) will instead get their characteristic orange-yellow color from paprika and other spices. And to boost the nutrition of their macaroni and cheese products, Kraft will also add some whole grains and slash some sodium and fat in each serving. Although not conceded by the company, it’s likely this change is in part the result of a petition created by Vani Hari (also known as The Food Babe). In her petition, Hari asked the company to remove artificial food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products. Posted on Change.org, the petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and most likely nudged the company to make the change.
In another recent move, the White House announced a two-year partnership between the Sesame Workshop (led by Elmo and Rosita), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) (for which First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair). The campaign which has been written about in another Parents blog, Sesame Street Brings Fun to the Produce Aisle, is designed to promote fresh food choices and make more nutritious selections a little easier for busy parents and families to make.
I know that while these food developments aren’t solely going to magically improve the health and wellbeing of children, they’re a step in the right direction. Even Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is encouraged. When asked about the removal of food dyes from some Kraft products, Moss said, “There’s no question that the food giants will respond to public pressure, especially if that pressure causes even the slightest drop in sales.” And while Moss does not view food companies as evil empires setting out to make us sick but as “companies doing what companies do to make money by selling products that meet people’s needs,” he says it’s important for people to act on their food-related concerns to facilitate healthful change in the food supply and eating habits.
And when it comes to pushing produce, Moss, a father of two sons aged 9 and 14, is excited by the prospect of Elmo being a driver and habit changer. In his recent New York Times article, Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, he argues that promoting fruits and vegetables based on their health virtues alone hasn’t—and most likely won’t ever—encourage people (including children) to eat them. The article also suggests that changing the way we market produce may be what’s needed to move the needle. In his article, he sums this up beautifully with a quote by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president of Coca-Cola who now works for Boathouse Farms, a baby-carrot producer:
“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.”
What do you think it will take to move the needle to help out kids eat better and enjoy a more healthful lifestyle?
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