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Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
My recent Scoop on Food Post, No More Soda in Kids’ Meals, sparked considerable online conversation and debate. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I support any attempt by a fast food company—or any restaurant—to offer smaller portions, or more healthful fare. I am also in favor or limiting the marketing of nutrient-poor foods to children who are quite vulnerable to the impacts of advertising on their eating choices and habits. Although I intuitively thought that most parents would support the move by McDonald’s to not offer soda with Happy Meals, many said it crosses a line when it comes to freedom and personal choice. And even though the federal government had nothing to do with the McDonald’s decision, many commented that they don’t want the government dictating what they should or shouldn’t eat or feed their families.
Here’s just a sample of some reader comments when asked if they agree with the change McDonald’s is making on the Parents Magazine Facebook Page:
Heidi M. Fanning I think that this is great! My kids enjoy a happy meal as an occasional treat and they always pick the milk anyway. I like that soda will no longer be MARKETED to children, even though their parents are still free to buy them soda if they so choose.
Erica Lopez Just because it is not listed does not mean you cannot get it. Personally, I feel as though it is a good thing that McDonald’s wants to encourage parents not to serve their children soda. There are not enough children who appreciate and drink water.
Shawn-Joy Martin …I don’t agree with the change. How about a little personal responsibility? Don’t get your kid a Happy Meal 5 days a week and then if they want a soda with it, it won’t be such a big deal.
Diane Pumpido Pallini …It’s not McDonald’s or the government’s or anyone’s business to tell me what I can and can’t order for my kids. This nonsense is going too far.
Ashley Howerton I think it’s crap. My kid very rarely gets a Happy Meal, but when he does, if I as the parent choose to let him have a tiny (because let’s be honest, those cups are tiny) cup of Root Beer, that’s my choice. I’m the parent! I’m so sick of people thinking they have a right to bully businesses into limiting my options as a parent.
Amber Loyd Has this group taken into consideration that they are making it more difficult to practice moderation even when occasionally splurging diet wise…we are raising our son that nothing is off limits but everything in moderation, which is why I support the fact that happy meal fries are smaller and there are apples included now…but now you are telling me that when I do occasionally treat my son to a happy meal and he wants a soda with it I’m forced to buy him a larger size and then fight the battle of not having a “full” cup… I won’t be spending my money at McDonald’s anymore, period.
Breanna Stephens Sure, you can still add a soda for a dollar if you’re really insistent on giving your child that. It’s not taking away your choice just taking it out of a kids’ meal to encourage better choices for our children. We all know it’s not good for them or us. I’ve never allowed my kids to have soda because to me it’s an unnecessary indulgence…It’s each family’s personal decision but I think logically this makes sense.
Victoria Wieting I wish parents were smart enough to not give kids soda on their own but since they are not and I often see kids as young as preschool drinking it, then it’s about time the policy changed.
Amy Sage NO, because it is one of the few times I allow my son to have soda. It’s called “Happy” meal for a reason, it makes kids HAPPY!
Katie Haynie Guess what? Parents who want to get their kids soda will still get their kids soda, but it will be a small instead of the kid size, which means it will be bigger. This whole thing is stupid. What are they going to do next, arrest you for giving kids soda?
Lorisa Griffith It still is not going to solve a thing and all the hype has gotten out of control. If you don’t want your kid drinking soda then don’t buy them soda. Stop dictating how businesses operate because you are too scared to tell your kids no. What’s next? No cookies or cupcakes or Dairy Queen?
Heidi M. Fanning I find it odd and silly that people are complaining that it should be their choice and not McDonald’s choice whether or not their child has soda, because IT STILL IS the parent’s choice! McDonald’s will still sell you a soda to give to your children if that is what you want to do, it is just not part of the Happy Meal. Seriously, no one is taking your precious soda away.
Cathy Vo What gives McDonald’s the right to decide if my child should have a soda or not? Getting my kids a Happy Meal was always an infrequent special treat that included the soda as a special treat, since I don’t buy soda to keep in the home! A stupid/unfair decision on their part!
I have no doubt this debate will continue, especially since similar nutrition and health initiatives by fast food and other companies will likely follow as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases remain prevalent in our society. For now, I agree with Margo Wootan, the Director of Nutriton Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says, “Taking soda off the Happy Meal section of menu boards at McDonald’s is an important step toward healthier kids meals and healthier children. It doesn’t much matter to me why they are doing it—just that it is good for kids and will make it a bit easier for parents to feed their children healthfully.”
What’s your opinion? Should companies have a say in how you should feed your children?
Image of cola in glass via shutterstock.
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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
In my last parents.com post, I shared my thoughts on whether or not soda could—or should—be a part of kids’ diets. While I certainly don’t think of sugary or artificially sweetened sodas as good-for-you beverages, I also don’t think of them as poison. Although I don’t give or encourage my kids to drink soda or other sweetened, nutrient-poor beverages, they drink it on occasion—just like they have candy or cookies or ice cream once-in-a-while. They know the difference between nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor foods, and I teach them the best I can from my example and from education and experience to choose mostly nutritious options and to keep portions of nutrient-poor options small and to consume such foods infrequently.
It’s always a challenge for parents to feed kids well. But I don’t believe there’s only one way for parents to raise their children to eat well and nutritiously. Each family should find what works for them to help raise healthful eaters who are active and fit and who feel good about food and their bodies. Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what messages about food and eating they want to pass on to their children and to create an environment that supports those messages. It is also parents’ prerogative to decide what (if any) role different foods and beverages—soda, or other empty-calorie foods—should play in their kids’ diets.
Because I don’t consider my personal opinion about feeding children to be the only—or right—opinion all must share, I queried several dietitians, a physician, and a health advocate to share their thoughts about the soda issue. Here’s what they had to say.
When I was a child, soda was a special treat–it was reserved for family picnics and rare dinners out. We drank water when we were thirsty. Now, children find water boring–they want it flavored with something–primarily sugar and artificial flavorings. While I don’t think it’s effective to demonize sodas, we need to get back to our roots. There is a strong relationship with soda consumption and childhood obesity. Let soda be for special occasions, dinners out, parties, picnics. Don’t bring it home and stock it in the house as a regular part of the diet. Let children drink water–straight out of the tap–when they’re thirsty. It will be better for their health, and it’s better for the environment.
~Sharon Palmer, RD, author, The Plant-Powered Diet
I have adult daughters, but when they were small, soda was not allowed in the house. They could have their choice of soda on their birthdays and I know they had it when at a friend’s house. As my daughters went through their teen years and college, the both said that while they did drink soda once-in-a-while, it wasn’t something they craved. Instead, both chose mostly water and homemade smoothies. I believe parents control what foods and beverages are in the home. If you don’t purchase soda, then children don’t have access to it. And that makes it much easier for them to enjoy the most natural hydrator—water.
~Debra King, MS, RDN, LD, CEO, Crown Consulting
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mom of an active five-year-old, I believe that moderate soda intake is acceptable for my child. We live in the hot and sunny south, and my child plays outside all day. He drinks a variety of drinks, and milk is his favorite. However, when it is hot outside, and he is playing and sweating, he also drinks water, and sometimes a regular or diet soda. I do not allow him to have soda that contains caffeine as he already so full of energy. My child is lean and eats a diet based on fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains and lean protein. He does not like or ask for cakes, cookies, pies etc. Labeling a food or beverage as “good” or “bad” doesn’t make sense to me, because if a child is not allowed soda, but is allowed high sugar treats throughout the day, what is the difference? I understand the AAP’s position on eliminating soda in children’s diets, but I think that education would be a better tactic. An occasional soda, regular or diet, in the context of an otherwise healthy low fat diet is not the enemy. This is especially true in active children of normal weight.
~Melissa Herrmann Dierks, RDN, LDN, CDE, Eat Smart Nutrition Co.
(Disclaimer: Melissa is also a consultant to the food and beverage industry, including Coca-Cola.)
We rarely had soda in our house and consequently, my kids didn’t develop a taste for it. However, once my kids went to school, it was a different story. My son (who is now 29, I might add) was given FREE soda at his middle school as part of a soft drink promotion. It was widely available in school and sports settings. Schools today also have fundraising McTeacher nights or Pizza Hut coupons for rewards for reading which promotes fast food and soft drink consumption. This creates a tough situation for parents because it put us up against a very powerful and savvy marketing and media machine. When it comes to diet soda, I absolutely do not support diet soft drink intake because of metabolic issues we don’t fully understand. If I had to choose between regular or diet soda, I would rather dilute a regular soda with plenty of carbonated water and ice to create a fizzy, refreshing taste, than give kids or adults diet soda. Parents should also know that most commercial soft drinks contain GMO sweeteners, and the cans may be lined with BPA.
~Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, Host, Food Sleuth Radio
As the mom of two school aged children, this is always a challenge. There are peer influences, as well as a desire for that extreme sweet taste, that sometimes override sensibilities. I am opposed to children drinking soda as there’s no good that comes from it. Soda provides empty calories and excess sugar, not to mention chemicals that affect children’s insides (though we’re not yet sure how). My gut reaction is for kids to avoid soda altogether. We never keep soda in our house, but what our kids drink when at their friends’ houses or when dining out might be another story…
~Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods (Alpha Books/Penguin)
Low-calorie sweeteners, including those in diet soda, are some of the most thoroughly studied food ingredients on record and numerous robust scientific studies show they are safe for people of all ages. The American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics all agree that low-calorie sweeteners can help safely control blood sugar and achieve health goals.
~Theresa Hedrick, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Scientific Affairs Specialist, Calorie Control Council
I tell my adolescent patients to avoid soda as much as possible. It’s an empty-calorie beverage that can do more harm than good! The American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than six added teaspoons of sugar daily. One 12-ounce bottle has nine teaspoons. I would rather have my clients drink beverages sweetened with a little stevia or one to two teaspoons of sugar than sip diet sodas as I feel it is an unhealthy beverage. Artificial sweeteners have zero nutritional benefit. And there are so many healthy drink options: water, seltzer, herbal teas, seltzer with a little fruit juice. Eating/ drinking real whole foods is a better choice than consuming products with artificial ingredients.
~Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN, author of The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy
We recently were on vacation in Atlanta, Georgia. Our friends and family were after us to visit the Coca-Cola Factory. I just said ‘NO’ because I would have been more critical about the whole process and how the factory worked rather than enjoy myself. I thought, why bother tasting soda flavors from so many countries when it’s not doing anything good for us. But even after hearing about the factory from their friends and checking out the factory’s website, reading about the tour and all the fun things they’d do and see on the tour, they still said NO even though they were given the freedom to make a choice. I was amazed! I am a strong believer of not having soda at home or offering to others when entertaining. I think this has rubbed off on my children. I do allow them to have soda if they wish when they’re at a birthday party. My 10-year-old son sometimes drinks Fanta, but my six-year-old daughter still chooses water over soda. One thing I constantly do is to remind them if something is good for them, and why soda is not good for them. I teach them not to succumb to peer pressure by drinking soda. I also teach them that they are responsible for their own health and that they actually have the power to influence other kids just by making a better choice for themselves.
~Shivani Sharma RD, LD, CLT, author, speaker and nutrition educator
I think it absolutely depends on the family and the child. The worst thing I could ever do with my oldest son who became obese during adolescence and who had oppositional tendencies (his story appears in my book, Weight Loss Confidential - he’s now 29 and manages his weight reasonably well) was to not allow something in the house. It only made him want it all the more.
~Anne M. Fletcher, MS, RD, LD, Anne M. Fletcher Communications, Inc.
I personally feel that nothing has to be completely avoided, especially for children. If you categorize foods or beverages as “never” or “forbidden” items, it may contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food. However, parents and caregivers should promote healthier options (like water or low- or nonfat milk ) on most occasions. and offer soda or juice less frequently. That can teach children that, over time, drinking too much soda—regular or diet—does not benefit health and may, down the road, add to health problems many of us adults face today.
~Melissa Mitri, RD, CDN
Should kids drink soda? No, except for on the rare occasion. If we teach our kids that food and drink are fuel for our bodies, soda is definitely not high octane!
~Jennifer Ashton, MD, ABC News Senior medical contributor and author of The Body Scoop for Girls
I think soda and diet soda are harmful to the body and should not be consumed by parents or children. There are no benefits to having it as a part of your life or healthy lifestyle, and there are risks associated with drinking it. For one, aspartame—the artificial sweetener found in Diet Coke—is made of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartame consumption has been linked with various diseases including cancer, muscular sclerosis, and diabetes and may contribute to weight gain, headaches, or fatigue. People need to realize they can still enjoy their lives and prevent disease by eating real food and drinking beverages. Once we start taking responsibility for what we put in our bodies, and make better choices that help us have healthier hearts, good eyesight, energy, mental clarity, strong bones, and clear skin, we will become a healthy nation instead of a sick one.
~Sarah Stanley, health advocate and endurance athlete
What’s your opinion? Are you yes, no, or somewhere in the middle when it comes to your kids and soda intake?
Image of little girl drinking water with young mother via Shutterstock.
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Monday, August 19th, 2013
With soda sales slipping, Coca-Cola recently launched Quality Products You Can Always Feel Good About. This new campaign includes a series of print advertisements in which the company highlights what they perceive to be perks of Diet Coke. It goes without saying that such a campaign is likely to, on one hand, enrage those who feel that soft drinks should have no part in a child’s diet, and on the other hand, reassure those whose kids drink the naturally or artificially sweet stuff.
Coincidence or not, just as the new Coca-Cola campaign rolled out, so too did the announcement of a study on soft drinks and behavior in young children. In the study, soon-to-be-published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found a link between soft drink consumption and aggression, attention problems, and withdrawal behavior in young children.
Using soft drink intake data (reported by mothers) of almost 3,000 five-year-old children from 20 large U.S. cities, researchers found that 43% of the children consumed at least one serving of soft drinks per day. Four percent consumed four or more daily soda servings. The researchers found that as soda intake increased, so too did aggressive behavior. Compared with children who didn’t consume soft drinks, those who consumed four or more soft drinks daily were more than twice as likely to destroy things belonging to others, get into fights, and physically attack people. They also had more attention problems and withdrawal behavior. Interestingly, previous studies among high school students have shown a link between increased soft drink intake and self-harm and aggression toward others.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, when asked if it’s OK for kids should have soda, I often say that occasionally drinking soda—whether sugary or artificially sweetened—is not going to ruin a child’s diet. But soda shouldn’t be a dietary staple. It doesn’t contribute key nutrients kids need to grow and develop optimally. It doesn’t fill kids up the way whole foods do. And studies suggest that intake of sugary beverages such as soda is linked with overweight and obesity, has a negative effect on dental health, and contributes to less healthful dietary choices.
Having once been a daily consumer of Diet Coke, I quit cold turkey almost two years ago and have not looked back. And even though the FDA deems aspartame—the artificial sweetener in Diet Coke—as safe, I had a fear that my several cans a day habit—and all that aspartame and other chemicals—would eventually catch up with me and impact my long-term health. I also quit my long-term habit (which I am convinced was an addiction) so that I could better model the healthier drinking habits I wanted to see my own children develop and maintain.
Although some (or many) may disagree with me, I am not, nor will I ever be, a soda hater (just like I’m not a hater of the Hostess cupcake or the Hershey bar). I don’t believe in demonizing any one food or beverage. I also don’t feel that it’s necessary for parents or children to avoid or give up any food or beverage they enjoy—nutritious or not—in order to consume a healthful, balanced diet. As long as they consume such items in moderate portions on occasion—rather than daily—I see no reason why soda or any other nutrient-poor item should be beaten down or banned from the diet. The overall diet quality and lifestyle matter far more than any one food or beverage choice.
But less is still more when it comes to sugary or artificially sweetened soda. Although it does provide some hydration, it also supplies caffeine—something children (especially young ones) don’t need. Kids’ lower body weights make them particularly sensitive to caffeine’s stimulant effects, so why get them started when they’re so young? And while I’m not concerned about kids’ having an occasional artificially sweetened beverage or item—especially if the sweetener they contain is FDA-approved—I encourage parents to help their kids get used to the taste of naturally sweet foods and beverages by offering those instead. And that’s what I’ve done with my own kids. Even when I was addicted to Diet Coke, I seldom kept it in our home—or drank it in front of them. Subsequently, my kids seldom drank soda. To this day, while my 15- and 11-year-olds have, on occasion, some Gatorade or Vitamin Water when playing several hours of sports, or sip on some soda at camp or at a birthday party, they mostly choose water, nonfat milk and an occasional cup of 100 percent fruit juice—just the way I like it.
Stay Tuned for Soda Wars: Health Experts Sound Off on Wednesday, August 21, 2013.
Do you give your kids soda? Why or why not?
Image of little boy drinking a glass of soda via Shutterstock.
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Monday, June 3rd, 2013
Should young children be steered far far away from sugary beverages towards good old H20?
Apparently they should according to Sugar Bites, a new anti-obesity social marketing campaign. Launched in Contra Costa County, California and co-sponsored by First 5 Contra Costa and Healthy and Active Before 5, the campaign targets parents of toddlers and preschoolers. The goal: to have parents offer to their young children water instead of soda, juice drinks, flavored milk and sports drinks.
The campaign claims that such beverages are “loaded with added sugars and calories with little nutritional value.” Although the campaign doesn’t label 100 percent fruit juice as a dietary devil, parents are urged to limit children’s fruit juice intake to four to six ounces daily as recommended for one to six year-olds by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
On the home page of the campaign website, an infographic outlines how many teaspoons of added sugar each of the sugar-sweetened beverages contain. It also says today’s kids drink twice as many calories from sugary drinks as they did three decades ago, and cites research that suggests sugary beverage intake significantly increases kids’ risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
As a registered dietitian and nutritionist and mother of two, I fully support the idea of teaching children from a young age to hydrate mostly by drinking water. I also encourage parents to offer their children fruits and vegetables early on and often. Repeated exposure to naturally water-packed foods not only helps children stay hydrated, but provides them with fiber and countless vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy. It also helps children develop their tastes and preferences for such foods. Research suggests that it may take up to 8 to 20 exposures before children accept and prefer a new food, so parents need to keep in mind that perseverance can pay off—eventually!—when feeding children.
It goes without saying that children should undoubtedly limit added sugars in their diet. And it’s clear sugary beverages contribute a good share of children’s total added sugar calories. Because young children require fewer calories than older ones, they have even less room in their diets for foods and beverages that offer a lot of calories with few nutrients. Instead, they need to fill their plates and cups with mostly nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy foods, and lean protein foods to grow and develop optimally.
Current government dietary guidelines and ChooseMyPlate call for reduced intake of added sugars among all Americans. Children can, however, safely consume about 10 percent of their total calories as added sugar. For a typical preschool child who consumes 1,000 to 1,200 calories, that’s 25 to 30 grams, 100 to 120 calories, or about 6 to 7.5 teaspoons of added sugar daily.
Although typical intake of added sugar among children continues to exceed current recommendations, the tide seems to be turning. A 2013 review of several national surveys show that intake of added sugars among children has decreased between the mid 1990’s and today. Perhaps Sugar Bites and similar initiatives will prove to further reduce added sugar intake among children.
While I generally support this campaign and appreciate its focus on early intervention and prevention, I think it unfairly lumps flavored milk with soda and other sugary beverages. They’re very different! While one cup or box of low fat chocolate milk provides some added sugar—10 grams, 40 calories, or 2.5 teaspoons worth—it also packs in tons of nutrients. As I’ve said in the past, milk is a good or excellent source of nine essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
Still, it’s prudent for parents to introduce young children to foods and beverages made without added sugars. And when it comes to milk, I encourage parents to first offer plain white milk rather than flavored kinds to get children used to, and learn to prefer, its taste. But if after many tries your children refuse to drink plain low fat or nonfat milk—or even if they occasionally want a delicious low fat chocolate milk—parents shouldn’t feel guilty about including it as a sweet way to get important nutrients into their children’s diets. In my book, usual eating and fitness patterns matter more to the health and well-being of children than simply one food or beverage choice.
While I agree that there’s a lot of data that links sugary beverage intake with adverse health effects such as higher body weight, more obesity, and more type 2 diabetes, a lot more research is needed before we can definitively say that drinking sweet beverages causes all of these conditions. I won’t argue that sugar-sweetened beverages are healthy, and it’s very likely that a high intake of them in young children is linked with other less-than-healthful food and lifestyle habits. But flavored milk and even an occasional soda or fruity drink can fit into a child’s otherwise healthful diet. You may or may not agree. But I truly feel that not everything we eat and drink has to be nutritionally stellar. Sometimes it’s ok to have something simply because you want it and it tastes good. It’s when we have too much of these nutrient-poor beverages and foods too often in the context of an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle that it can becomes a problem we need to address.
What are your thoughts about this campaign?
Image of dietary warning of sugary drinks via Shutterstock.
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