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Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
In an effort to stop marketing unhealthy foods to children and curb childhood obesity in America, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently asked five candy companies including Tootsie Roll Industries, American Licorice Company, Haribo of America, Perfetti Van Melle, and The Topps Company to join the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
According to CSPI, letters to the five candy companies were also signed by prominent organizations including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Yale Rudd Center, Prevention Institute, MomsRising.org as well as other physicians and public health experts.
On the plus side, CSPI reports that three of the nation’s largest candy companies—Hershey, Mars, and Nestle—already belong to the CFBAI, a voluntary self-regulation program founded in 2006 and administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB).
As described on the BBB website, the CFBAI “is designed to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.” Currently, the three biggest candy companies in the United States—The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle USA—currently participate in the initiative. More than a dozen companies including The Coca-Cola Company and Burger King Corporation have also signed on.
According to Maureen Enright, Deputy Director, CFBAI, as part of the initiative, candy and other companies voluntarily agree to use CFBAI’s uniform nutrition criteria to govern what foods are in child-directed advertising (CFBAI covers advertising on TV, radio, print, on the internet, and in mobile ads and apps) or do no child-directed advertising. Currently, CFBAI participants that make candy, including Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero, don’t advertise directly to children.
In a press release, CSPI notes that according to both the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, children under age eight aren’t mature enough to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. The press release states that, according to the Institute of Medicine, television food advertising affects children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and overall health.
I fully support this initiative as well as the encouragement of CSPI to have candy companies (and all food companies, for that matter) to do more to protect the health and well being of children. I’m all for anything we can do to better the environment to encourage kids to eat more healthfully and moderately, especially since kids fall short on many foods including fruits and vegetables and whole grains and tend to over consume foods made with solid fats and added sugars (collectively, these are called SoFAS according to current dietary guidelines).
According to national survey data, kids’ between the ages of two and eighteen consume an average of 646 calories from SoFAS—or about one third of their total calorie intake. Current guidelines suggest up to five to 15 percent of daily calories from SoFAS. For a child or adolescent who consumes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 calories daily, that’s about 137 to 161 calories, the amount you’d find in 5 to 6 Hershey kisses.
Besides focusing on advertising of unhealthy foods to kids, I strongly believe that we have to rethink our ubiquitous access to such nutrient-poor foods. Why is it that so many checkout counters at places ranging from gas stations to electronic stores are decorated with shelves of candy wrapped in colorful wrappers? And what about all those coolers, many also at checkout counters, packed with sugary beverages? And vending machines…they’re everywhere, and they’re usually packed with a range of snack foods, many of which fare more like dessert (fortunately, those with 20 or more locations are now required to follow new federal calorie labeling guidelines).
It’s hard to resist the urge to buy impulse items, and what parent hasn’t given in to their kids’ demand for something at a checkout counter or vending machine at least on occasion? It seems to me that besides limiting or altogether obliterating candy and other nutrient-poor food advertisements, especially those that are geared to impressionable children, we also need to have rules about what and how stores sell food.
You might argue that businesses of all kinds have a right to sell what they want and to position such items where they want. But isn’t it wrong on some level to sell candy and other such items at a store that’s not really in the business of selling food? Or to sell food on low shelves, at eye level, where it entices kids? If we are going to make any progress in helping to teach our children to eat well, we need to create an environment—not just at home, but outside the home—that doesn’t sabotage practicing healthy eating and lifestyle habits and teaching them to our kids.
CSPI has been extremely successful in many of their initiatives, and I hope this latest attempt to get candy companies to step up to the plate to limit potentially harmful advertising of less than healthy foods to children catches on. I’m not sure the rules will ever become mandatory, but achieving this would at very least be a big step in helping our kids eat and live more healthfully.
What’s your opinion?
Image of chocolate bar with caramel via shutterstock.
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Diet, Nutrition, Obesity, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Monday, September 8th, 2014
A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that, at least in adults, a low-carbohydrate (<40 grams/day) diet led to greater weight loss and more beneficial improvements in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels than a low-fat (<30% of daily energy intake from total fat) diet. Researchers concluded that restricting carbohydrates may be an option for those who want to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.
The study, highlighted on Good Morning America, in The New York Times, and in countless other outlets will likely have many parents, in their efforts to manage their own weight, continue with their low carb ways. And if parents are eating low carb, should they encourage kids—especially if overweight—to do the same? I hope not!
For one, carbohydrates provide the basic fuel needed by the brain, red blood cells, and entire central nervous system. Carbohydrates also supply the body with serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Too few carbohydrates—and serotonin—can very well make kids feel sleepy and irritable. And what parent in their right mind wants to do anything to encourage that?!
According to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about half of kids’ calories should come from carbohydrates. More precisely, the range suggested is 45 to 65% of total calories. Based on What We Eat in America, kids fall into that range, and get an average of 53 to 56% of their total calories from carbohydrates. But while many kids can certainly afford to curb their intake of carbohydrate by at least a little bit, especially with obesity rates as they are, it’s wise for them to reduce intake of sugary snacks and drinks that provide empty calories rather than forgo grains (even if refined, like pasta or white bread) and other carbohydrate-rich, nutrient-packed foods.
That doesn’t mean kids should OD on white bread, pasta, white rice, sugary cereal, French fries, cookies, and donuts to get their carbs. Going overboard on such foods, especially when served in bloated portions at fast food and other restaurants (not to mention ballparks), will most definitely leave less room for other nutrient-rich foods to help them optimally grow and develop.
Currently, kids consume most grains in their refined rather than whole form. So one key way to improve (if not slightly reduce) kids’ carbohydrate intake is to help them replace some of the refined carbs in their diet with whole grains. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge three to six grains daily, with at least half as whole grains, for kids who consume 1,000 to 2,400 calories. (For reference (see page 16), two to five-year-olds require at least 1,000 to 1,200 calories; six- to 10-year-olds require at least 1,200 to 1,600 calories; 11- to 14-year-olds 1,600 to 2,000 calories; and 15- to 18-year-olds require at least 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily.)
Although they tend to get a bad rap (or is it wrap?!) because they’re carbohydrate-rich, whole grains are sources of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. Whole grain intake has also been linked with reduced heart disease risk. It may also help reduce constipation, and promote healthy weight.
Some whole grains that kids enjoy include popcorn, air-popped, with canola or vegetable oil; cooked oats or whole grain, high fiber cereal (eg low fat granola or another crunchy cereal mixed with fresh fruit, nuts and/or seeds, or low fat yogurt); and brown rice mixed with stir-fried poultry or beef and vegetables.
For ideas on how to enhance the taste and flavor of whole grains and to serve them and other carbohydrate-rich foods in appealing ways, check out the Meal Makeover Moms website. Also, there’s evidence that nudging your kids toward whole grains by making them more fun can also help. A recent study published in BMC Public Health found that presenting kids with whole wheat bread in fun shapes can help increase their intake.
When it comes to kids and carbs, it’s also important to remember that carbohydrates aren’t just found in grains. Fruits and vegetables (which kids don’t get enough of, anyway), beans, nuts and seeds, and milk are also sources of carbohydrates and can create the foundation for a healthful dietary pattern for most children. Depending on their individual calorie needs, current guidelines recommend that kids aim for one to two cups fruit (whole fruit preferable to juice), one to three cups vegetables (including dark green, red and orange, legumes, and starchy vegetables), and 2 to 3 cups dairy foods including low-fat or nonfat milk/yogurt.
I’m all for encouraging kids to have fewer carbohydrate-rich foods like French fries, potato chips, cookies, candy, and soda. But it’s essential that they not throw out of their diets fruits (despite their natural sugar content) and other foods that provide quality carbohydrates and other important nutrients to keep them healthy. Such foods are also vital for kids who are very active or athletic since carbohydrates are the main fuel for their working muscles.
If your child is overweight, you may think that it’s perfectly fine to forget about any possible benefits carbs provide and to simply cut them from their diet. If you mean cutting many of the extras like cookies and cupcakes, I’m all for that. But if you mean cutting all pasta, rice, bread, or crackers, whether or not they’re whole grain, I say that sticking to small portions of those foods is better than not including any of them. Even refined grains provide nutrients (though not as much as whole grains). There’s also proof that cutting portions rather than carbs may be enough to promote healthy weight management.
A recent year-long study published in Journal of Pediatrics of more than 100 obese 7- to 12-year-olds found that lowering carbohydrate intake was just as effective as a standard portion-controlled diet (an energy-reduced, low fat diet) for weight management. However, the researchers also found that the low carbohydrate diet was more difficult for the kids to follow, especially over the long-term. They concluded that either diet can effectively help kids lose weight.
When it comes to kids and carbs, my bottom line is this: choose smart carbs in smaller portions rather than cutting them altogether. That way, kids can reap their many nutritional and other benefits carbohydrate-rich foods provide while still consuming a healthful and still edible diet.
Image of healthy cereal rings via shutterstock.
What’s your take on carbs and kids?
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Diet, Health, Must Read, Nutrition, Obesity
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
This is a guest post by David Teten, father of three and partner with ff Venture Capital, an early-stage technology investor in New York City. David blogs at teten.com.
The world rains sugar on my children. The bus driver offers my child bubble gum. The teachers give cupcakes at every birthday party. The school vending machine is full of junk food; so is the one at the YMCA. At camp, the counselors offer candy and an ice pop at the end of the day. Our kids are invited to birthday parties which include a cake, a candy piñata, and then a goodie bag bursting with still more more candy.
Why are people incessantly feeding my kids sugar?
Most parents want their children to be energetic, happy, and healthy. However, I see an amazing number of adults who are doing the opposite: hurting the health of their kids by offering an alarming amount of processed sugar on a regular—if not daily—basis.
It’s been proven that obesity is a problem in our country; two-thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese, and one-third of all children are overweight or obese. But for some reason, most of the adults I see do not take the logical next step of changing the way they feed their children.
In my opinion, these are the major reasons why adults put this known health hazard in front of children:
1) It’s tradition to bring cakes and other sweets to school to celebrate special events.
Fifty years ago, almost any business or social event would include cigarettes, often offered as a party favor. Now, most educated people would be shocked to see people smoking at an event with children in the room. Similarly, I predict that 20 years from now, we’ll look back in astonishment at the amount of sugar that we unthinkingly fed our children. Tradition is not something we’re locked into.
2) We only serve treats “occasionally” at “special events.”
In a class of 20 kids with 20 birthdays, plus various holidays and other special events, virtually every school week includes a reason for a party. There are many other ways to celebrate, such as making a craft or doing something active. Feeding sweets to children is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Schools, synagogues, churches, party organizers, sports teams, meal hosts—all provide occasional treats to make kids happy. These accumulate into constant exposure. Ultimately, it’s our children who pay the price.
3) Treats attract children and make them happy.
There is endless academic research showing that when people or children perform a task for a reward, they lose interest when that reward disappears. By giving kids candy at school, you’re not teaching love of learning; you’re teaching love of candy.
4) It’s the parents’ responsibility to train the kids to make the right food choices.
Only someone with perfectly obedient children could make this argument. We don’t have any perfectly obedient children, and neither do our friends. Children are bad at understanding long-term consequences and don’t have all the facts they need. We send them to school and raise them to help develop these skills.
5) It’s too expensive to serve healthy food.
To quote: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Serving kids processed sugar now is cheap, but creates very significant long-term costs in treating obesity and diabetes. I’ve written elsewhere on low-cost ways to create a healthy office or school environment; also see Parsely’s “Startup Diet.” Many parents, including me, will gladly pay a premium to feed our children real food.
6) It’s too difficult to reduce the amount of sugar that we serve.
Many schools are strictly and successfully nut-free, even though nuts are dangerous to just a small number of kids. Sugar is dangerous to all kids, so why can’t schools succeed in reducing sugar? Many schools that have tried to move to a healthier diet face protests from children acclimated to eating sugar with every dish at home. It’s frustrating that this dilemma exists, but it shouldn’t mean that we throw up our hands and do nothing. Instead, we should focus on educating children and adults about healthy habits, and incorporate whole foods steadily into school programs.
Our schools and camps are places of education. But education is not just books; education is also nutrition and healthy living. I am not advocating forcing kids to eat things they are going to hate, but merely providing them with healthy options and offering them fewer temptations.
One alternative is to order a meal kit from Plated, a company that makes it easy to prepare home-cooked meals. Additionally, if you’d like to start the healthier-eating conversation at your child’s school or camp, or on her sports team, I suggest using these form letters.
It is up to us, as parents, to protect our children. If we approach the problem head-on, and introduce real foods in a natural, gradual way, sugar will loosen its damaging hold on our kids.
My Suggestions for Healthy Kids’ Snacks:
Cereal without sugar
Edamame – boiled soybeans in the pod
Whole grain, low-salt snacks
Beans and Bean Dips
Cottage Cheese with Fruit Pieces
Any vegetables: Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, avocados, etc.
Mini rice cakes—unsalted
Applesauce (natural, made from whole apples, without added sugar).
Disclosure: ff Venture Capital is an investor in both Plated as well as Parsely, creator of the Startup Diet.
Image of candy via Shutterstock
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Diet, Meals, Nutrition, Obesity, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Friday, July 18th, 2014
This is a guest post by Karen Cicero, Parents’ Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor.
Fish, whole grains, veggies—these probably aren’t your kids’ favorite foods (okay, they might not even like them at all), but it’s worth your time to work on it. Here’s why: A new study of 9,000 children ages 2 to 9 in eight European countries found that those who most closely follow a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be overweight. I admit that it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but considering nearly 1 in 5 American kids ages 6 to 11 is overweight, it makes a significant dent. Plus, since obesity rates increase as kids get older, it’s worth getting on the right track before the tween and teen years.
What’s so special about the Mediterranean approach? The researchers think that the high fiber content and healthy fats found in foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and produce may help prevent kids from overeating. “This is the first study I’ve seen that makes the connection between the Mediterranean and obesity in kids,” says Lauri Wright, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and mom of three. “We already know that this type of eating plan is healthy in many other ways—like helping to prevent heart disease—so it’s wonderful that it may have extra benefits for children too.”
Of course, you’re not going to be able to switch your child’s eating habits overnight, but take these steps to make your family’s meals and snacks more Mediterranean:
* Do over dip. Swap the creamy salad dressings your kid drenches his baby carrots in for healthy hummus.
* Make pizza at home. Use thin whole-grain crust. Make it yourself (find a recipe here) or buy pick up a package of whole-wheat Naan bread (my daughter prefers it for her pizza!). Top it with whatever veggie your kid likes—even if it’s corn.
* Start working in more seafood. Let your child give it a try in a no-pressure situation, like when it’s on a buffet or when she’s having a bite of yours. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to swipe clams and mussels from my plate, at first mainly because she was intrigued by the shells. But then she began requesting a bowl of her own! Eventually, work your way up to homemade fish nuggets—Wright coats pieces of mild fish with applesauce and then rolls them in cornmeal before baking. When you’re ready to move onto grilled fish, top it with a salsa made from your child’s favorite fruits. That’s how I got my daughter to taste salmon and sea bass, which are now her faves.
* Build on veggie success. Chances are, your child likes a lot of different kinds of fruits and a few veggies. Combine a favorite with something that’s unfamiliar or not as well liked (such as corn with red onions or cucumbers with radishes or watermelon with baby spinach) to increase the chance that he’ll eat it. Salad can be a tough sell so start with mild butter lettuce and add a lot of fun familiar ingredients (like dried fruit, sunflower seeds, or orange wedges). Kids may also enjoy salads more if they’re chopped. Even though it takes longer to prepare, you’ll have a happy, healthier eater as a reward.
Image of Mediterranean food via Shutterstock.
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Health, Meals, Nutrition, Obesity, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Who doesn’t covet sleep? Spending enough time under the covers eludes many parents, especially when raising young children. When I think back to 15 and 11 years ago when I had, and brought home, my beautiful sons, the one negative that comes to mind is the erratic and irregular sleeping habits that characterized our household. As one who really needs her sleep (and is admittedly often in PJs at around 9 P.M.), I can’t say that I miss walking around exhausted, irritable, and listless during most of those days. (I do miss my sons’ endless hugs and kisses, but I digress…)
We all know that getting enough high quality sleep is important. But as reported in a recent article in the New York Times and covered on the Today show, most of us sleep a lot less (and well) than we should. And while sleep is essential for us all, it’s absolutely critical for growing children and adolescents.
Studies suggest that kids who don’t sleep enough tend to weigh more than kids who do. One study found that three to four year-old Brazilian children who slept less had higher body weights than those who slept longer. On average, the children who were overweight slept an average of 23 minutes less than normal weight children. Another study found that compared to sleeping at least 10 hours nightly, less than 10 hours per night on weekdays was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference among adolescents. Another study in the Netherlands found that short sleep duration was associated with overweight among four to 13 year-old boys and nine to 13 year-old girls (but not those aged four to eight). Researchers also found a strong link between less sleep and more tv time and computer use (a big shocker, I know).
Not enough sleep may also reduce kids’ heart health. A recent study found that lower quality sleep and higher sleep disturbance was linked with increased cardiovascular risk, increased risk of hypertension, and higher unhealthy cholesterol levels. Other research suggests that sleep deprivation can significantly impair kids’ daytime neurobehavioral function and contribute to academic struggles, challenging behaviors, substance abuse and other problems.
If that wasn’t enough, a study of one to 14 year-olds also found that sleeping less than eight hours a day was linked with a higher risk of accidental falls.
So what are parents to do—especially during the summer, when schedules are ever-changing due to travel and other activities? Here are six tips to help your kids (and you) get the sleep you need this summer and beyond:
Know the number: According to the National Sleep Foundation, daily sleep needs for one to three year-olds is about 12 to 14 hours; for three to five year-olds, it’s about 11 to 13 hours; and five to 12 year-olds should aim for 10 to 11 hours.
Have a routine. Clinical Psychologist Michael Breus, PhD says bedtimes should be consistent, and that each child in the family should have his or her own bedtime based on age and stage. To help kids get on a healthy routine, Dr. Breus says it’s all about consistency and ritual. “I advise parents to help their kids create a routine that includes meals at least two to three hours before bed, no electronics for at least an hour before bed, minimal amounts of physical activity before bed, and dim lights in the bedroom,” says Breus.
Cap the nap. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents want their kids to take a nap—even when they’re not due for or don’t need one. According to University of Pennsylvania researcher Michael Grandner, PhD, “Sometimes getting young kids to fall asleep in the car while traveling seems like a respite from the extra stress of a car trip. But if kids nap for too long, or too late in the day, parents and kids may be in for a rough night.” Grandner says that not only will kids’ “hunger” for sleep be less powerful at night when you actually want them to sleep, but they’re likely to wake up cranky, tired, and irritable (and we’ve all seen this happen). He suggests keeping naps to the early afternoon, for a limited time, to protect sleep at night. Dr. Breus adds, “If no longer age appropriate (by about age five), naps are out as they will only delay sleep onset.”
Get back on track. When your kids’ bedtime routine is sidetracked by vacations, celebrations, and ever-changing summer schedules, helping your kids get the sleep they need can be a big challenge. Although he recommends staying on a set sleep schedule as often as possible, Breus knows that sometimes it’s not possible. He does recommend, however, that kids who get off track on sleep get back on as soon as possible. Although he doesn’t suggest putting kids to bed earlier, Breus says it’s OK to do so if the sleep they were getting was really poor.
Stay in the zone. According to Grandner, vacations—especially across time zones—can create plenty of sleep challenges. He says, “Keep track of where kids’ internal clock is and try to avoid bright light when you want their bodies to think it is “night.” He also suggests exposing kids to bright sunlight when you want their bodies to think it is “morning,” and keeping routines from home—like reading a book before bed time—the same when away.
Look for the flags. According to Breus, your child’s sleep problems may be something worth discussing with a pediatrician or sleep doctor if his or her behavior seems out of control (Breus says kids have a tendency to act wild when tired, almost looking like ADD); they snore; or if they won’t go to sleep, and bedtime is a nightly struggle.
How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?
Image of sad adorable little girl in the bed closeup via Shutterstock.
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