Tag Archives: child nutrition

New school nutrition guidelines issued

First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Rachael Ray to unveil the biggest overhaul on school meals in more than 15 years. There will be more whole grains, less salt and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and all milk must now be low fat. But the new rules do not go as far as the Administration had hoped. Continue reading

Kids’ snacks CAN be healthy and inexpensive

It’s well-documented that healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables tend to cost more than “junk” foods such as chips and cookies, a phenomenon that’s often cited as a contributing factor to the U.S. obesity epidemic. But a new study conducted in YMCAs found that healthy snacks aren’t always more expensive, and in some cases are even more economical. Continue reading

US replaces food pyramid with nutrition plate

The US Department of Agriculture recently unveiled the long awaited replacement for the food pyramid, the triangle of nutrition introduced back in 1992. And I, for one, think it’s a great change! Continue reading

First Lady, Wal-Mart to fight childhood obesity

Here’s a shout out to Mrs. Obama. News reports say that the First Lady and Wal-Mart have forged an agreement geared at preventing childhood obesity. Media sources generally characterized the move as a victory for Mrs. Obama’s signature campaign and I would agree.

ABC World News reported, First Lady Michelle Obama “announced that Wal-Mart, which sells more groceries than any market in America, is going to change what’s on its shelves.”

On the CBS Evening News the First Lady was shown saying, “I am thrilled about Wal-Mart’s new nutrition charter.”

NBC Nightly News said that Mrs. Obama “has announced she’s working with the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which promised today to cut prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and to reduce fats, sugars, salt, eliminate transfats in some of its own store brands by the year 2015.”

The AP reports, “Wal-Mart … says it will reformulate thousands of products to make them healthier and push its suppliers to do the same, joining first lady Michelle Obama’s effort to combat childhood obesity. The first lady accompanied Wal-Mart executives Thursday as they announced the effort in Washington.”

Wal-Mart “plans to reduce sodium and added sugars in some items, build stores in poor areas that don’t already have grocery stores, reduce prices on produce and develop a logo for healthier items.”

The Washington Post reports, “Just a few years ago, President Obama refused to shop at Wal-Mart. But his wife now has other ideas.”

The First Lady said, “When I see a company like Wal-Mart launch an initiative like this, I feel more hopeful than ever before. … We can improve how we make and sell food in this country.”

If your family is wrestling with childhood or overweight, consider ordering a copy of book I’ve written specifically to help you and your family: SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. You can find them on sale at my book Web site. The hard cover is available for $3.99 (plus shipping) here, and the soft cover for $1.99 here.

SSK cover

Kids Not So Stuck on Sugary Breakfast Cereals, Study Finds

It turns out that when kids are given a choice of cereals, and there is fruit on hand, most will be happy with low-sugar fare. In other words, getting your kids to happily eat nutritious, low-sugar breakfast cereals may be child’s play, researchers report. This was exactly what I predicted in my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, currently on sale here.

SSK cover

The recent study finds that children will gladly chow down on low-sugar cereals if they’re given a selection of choices at breakfast, and many compensate for any missing sweetness by opting for fruit instead. Here are the details from HealthDay News:

The 5-to-12-year-olds in the study still ate about the same amount of calories regardless of whether they were allowed to choose from cereals high in sugar or a low-sugar selection. However, the kids weren’t inherently opposed to healthier cereals, the researchers found.

“Don’t be scared that your child is going to refuse to eat breakfast. The kids will eat it,” said study co-author Marlene B. Schwartz, deputy director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Nutritionists have long frowned on sugary breakfast cereals that are heavily marketed by cereal makers and gobbled up by kids.

In 2008, Consumer Reports analyzed cereals marketed to kids and found that each serving of 11 leading brands had about as much sugar as a glazed donut. The magazine also reported that two cereals were more than half sugar by weight and nine others were at least 40 percent sugar.

This week, food giant General Mills announced that it is reducing the sugar levels in its cereals geared toward children, although they’ll still have much more sugar than many adult cereals.

In the meantime, many parents believe that if cereals aren’t loaded with sweetness, kids won’t eat them.

But is that true? In the new study, researchers offered different breakfast cereal choices to 91 urban children who took part in a summer day camp program in New England. Most were from minorities families and about 60 percent were Spanish-speaking.

Of the kids, 46 were allowed to choose from one of three high-sugar cereals: Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Pebbles, which all have 11-12 grams of sugar per serving. The other 45 chose from three cereals that were lower in sugar: Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. They all have 1-4 grams of sugar per serving.

All the kids were also able to choose from low-fat milk, orange juice, bananas, strawberries and extra sugar.

Taste did matter to kids, but when given a choice between the three low-sugar cereals, 90 percent “found a cereal that they liked or loved,” the authors report.

In fact, “the children were perfectly happy in both groups,” Schwartz said. “It wasn’t like those in the low-sugar group said they liked the cereal less than the other ones.”

The kids in both groups also took in about the same amount of calories at breakfast. But the children in the high-sugar group filled up on more cereal and consumed almost twice as much refined sugar as did the others. They also drank less orange juice and ate less fruit.

Len Marquart, an associate professor of food science and nutrition at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, said the study findings “confirm for people that their choices in the cereal aisle do make a difference.”

“The biggest challenges are taste and marketing. In the morning, kids are sleepy and cranky, and it’s hard to get them to sit down and eat breakfast,” he said. “The sugar cereals marketed with flash and color and cartoon characters help get kids to the kitchen table when nothing else seems to work. And, we have to be realistic, they do like the taste of presweetened cereals.”

But one solution is to be creative, he said. “Take Cheerios and put some strawberries and vanilla yogurt on top, and that’s going to taste better than any presweetened cereal anyway,” Marquart said.

New Year’s Resolution – Take the kids out for fast food less often

A highly healthy resolution for your family in 2011 would be to slowly reduce the number of trips you make to fast food restaurants. Why? Well, there are only a dozen or so healthful kids’ meals out of thousands of possible combinations at the nation’s popular fast-food chains, at least according to a new comprehensive analysis.

Researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity reviewed the nutritional information on more than 3,000 kids’ meal combinations at eight fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Sonic, KFC, Taco Bell and Dairy Queen. The assessment evaluated whether the meals had healthful foods and didn’t exceed the recommended limits in categories such as calories and sodium.

They also hired people to order kids’ meals at 250 restaurants nationally from five chains to determine what is being served as the default choice.

The findings released at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Denver, show:

  • 12 meal combos met the nutrition criteria for preschoolers; 15 combos met the criteria for elementary kids.
  • Another 20 meal combinations met kids’ calorie goal but were too high in at least one area, such as sodium.
  • The calories in kids’ meals ranged from about 300 to 1,000.
  • Teens purchase 800 to 1,100 calories in a fast-food meal, about half a day’s worth of calories.
  • Kids 2 to 12 typically order foods with about half a day’s sodium.
  • Some chains do not offer 100% juice or milk.
  • Most fast-food chains offer at least one healthful side dish and beverage, but employees usually automatically give customers french fries and soda as the default option. The exception is Subway, which promotes its healthy choices 60% of the time.

Making the healthy choices the default option in kids’ meals would cut children’s intake by billions of calories a year, says Yale’s Marlene Schwartz. That’s important because about 84% of parents report taking their child to a fast-food restaurant at least once a week, according to a survey of parents.

Kids today are bombarded with ads for fast food on TV and the Internet, says Yale’s Jennifer Harris. Teens see five fast-food TV ads a day; elementary students see 31/2; and preschoolers see three.

If you’d like more tips on improving your child’s nutrition, pick up a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. It’s on sale now at my online bookstore here.

SuperSized Kids - .161 MB JPEG copy

Keep Health in Mind When Planning School Day Menus For Your Kids

As a parent preparing for your child’s school day, it may be helpful to remember that healthy meals and snacks are essential for learning. Here are some helpful tips from the experts at HealthDay News:

“Parents can make the school day easier for their children by providing nutritious and yummy breakfasts, lunches and snacks that promote optimal learning. Everyone is in a rush in the morning, but it only takes a few minutes on Sunday to plan healthy meals to fuel your child’s week,” Karin Richards, director of the Exercise Science and Wellness Management program, and director of Health Sciences at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said in a university news release.

Richards offered the following advice for parents as they plan breakfast, lunch and snacks for their school-age children:

  • Include at least three types of foods into each meal, making sure to include some type of protein and complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bagels or pasta. The complex carbohydrates will provide energy while the protein will satisfy your child’s appetite for a longer period of time.
  • Bring your child to the market with you and let him or her choose one fruit or vegetable each week. Encourage kids to try new and interesting produce such as kiwi, papaya and edamame.
  • Monitor portion size. Three to four ounces of meat (about the size of your palm) is plenty. Adjust the amount based on your child’s age and activity level.
  • Add more vegetables into your child’s diet, even if you have to sneak them in. For example, try zucchini bread, veggies with low-fat dip, or shred carrots into tomato sauce and soups.
  • For beverages, suggest no-fat milk or water. If you child prefers juice, make sure it’s 100 percent juice.

Many types of standard lunch fare are packed with calories and fat. But there are healthier alternatives that can make for a more nutritious lunch. The Nemours Foundation suggests these healthier lunch options:

  • Turkey and other low-fat deli meats.
  • Whole grain bread — instead of white — spread with mustard or light mayo.
  • Vegetables and dip, air-popped popcorn, and trail mix or baked potato chips, in place of fried potato chips.
  • Fresh fruit or packaged fruit in natural juices, instead of syrup.
  • Yogurt or a homemade fruit-filled muffin, in place of packaged cakes or cookies.
  • No-fat milk or water, in place of sodas or sugary fruit drinks.

For More information From The Nemours Foundation About Children And Healthy Eating click here.

Parents Beware: Cartoon Characters Sell Kids on Unhealthy Foods

Using the likes of Shrek and Dora to market treats should be banned, researcher says. Why? Because popular cartoon characters are negatively influencing the taste preferences of very young children, and not in a positive way, a new study suggests.Here are the details from HealthDay News: —

Researchers found that the branding of American food product packaging with characters such as Dora the Explorer drives preschoolers to choose higher-calorie, less healthful foods over more nutritious options.

“The bottom line is that when kids are presented with a choice of graham crackers, fruit snacks or carrots, and the only difference is that one package has a licensed character on it, they actually think that the food with the character tastes better,” said study author Christina Roberto, a doctoral student working at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The findings, reported online June 21 in Pediatrics, reflect on the food preferences of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls who found foods tastier when the packaging bore the likenesses of beloved TV and movie characters.

The authors looked at 40 preschoolers — described as “ethnically diverse” — attending four child-care centers in New Haven. Over the course of two visits, the team presented the children with samples from three different food types: low-nutrient/low-energy graham crackers; low-nutrient/high-energy gummy fruit snacks; and high-nutrient/low-energy baby carrots.

All the foods were packaged with the same color, shape and design, with one brandless and one branded example from each food category. Branded versions bore the likenesses of eminently recognizable cartoon characters: either Scooby Doo, Dora or Shrek.

By the study’s conclusion, all the children had sampled each type of food, both with and without character branding.

Overall, the children perceived foods that had character branding as being tastier than those that didn’t, the researchers found.

However, the character branding of carrots, the healthiest option, was not quite as persuasive at driving taste as it was for the two less healthy options. This, the authors suggested, could be because healthy foods are character-branded much less often than junk foods.

“We think what might be going on with that is familiarity,” Roberto theorized. “Which means that kids are simply really used to seeing characters on foods that are processed. And those foods are also more palatable, so the effects might be accentuated.”

Roberto and her colleagues think the findings highlight the need to restrict the use of character licensing on certain unhealthy foods.

“We restrict this kind of cartoon marketing of cigarettes to kids because it’s a public health issue,” she noted. “We want to protect our children. So I think there’s a great parallel there.”

“So the priority should be first to get these characters off of unhealthy foods,” she added. “And then as a goal ultimately to get them actually put on the packaging for healthy foods. But first we have to focus on dealing with the unhealthy options, because I don’t think slapping them on healthy foods while they’re still on unhealthy foods is going to work.”

Rahil D. Briggs, director of Healthy Steps at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, agrees that combining popular imagery with unhealthful foods is problematic and likely contributing to the obesity epidemic.

“What is unique about children at this age is that although they have fairly advanced cognitive skills and short-term and long-term memory in place, they do not have the ability to be skeptical about the messages they are receiving,” she said.

“So what we, as adults, think of as advertising — and we know how persuasive it can be — it is not different to them than simply choosing the Dora the Explorer coloring book over a random coloring book. They identify with the coloring book, and they want everything Dora, from soup to nuts.”

It follows then, Briggs added, “that when in the grocery aisle with Mom absolutely they will choose the Dora cereal to complement the rest of their Dora collection.”

She noted that the alarming increase in obesity among very young children — rates have more than doubled since the 1970s, she said — correlates with a parallel spike in the amount of money that the food industry spends on targeting advertising to very young children.

“So when you pair the very sweet foods with the character brands, it’s almost too powerful for parents to battle,” she concluded. “It’s like a one-two punch.”

I’m having a sale that’s designed to help your child and your family become more highly healthy. My book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, has been drastically marked down at my online bookstore.

You can read more about this amazing resource at SuperSizedKids.com.

The book explains, in a step-by-step manner, how you as a parent can work to avert the childhood obesity epidemic from hitting your family (or, how to reduce overweight or obesity in your family if it’s already there).

The evidence-based, easy-to-do family program can help you and your family take control of the weight challenges facing every member of your family.

But hurry. Supplies are limited.

Kids Like Cartoon-Branded Snacks Better

A new study is showing that children find foods taste better if the packages feature popular cartoon characters. Once simply the world’s best-known cartoon, canine detective Scooby-Doo is now also a popular pitchman for pasta, cookies, “fruit” snacks, and other foods marketed to young children. And, SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek, Dora the Explorer, and many other cartoon characters also do double duty selling junk food and sometimes healthy foods to kids, and this new research clearly shows why manufacturers use them.

The study found that foods packaged with popular cartoon characters really do taste better – or at least they do to 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds. The effect was not as great with carrots as with less healthy fruit-flavored gummies and graham crackers, but more children said they preferred the taste of all three snacks when the foods bore the image of a familiar cartoon face. Here are the details from WebMD:

Cartoon Branding Is Big Business

Food and beverage companies in the U.S. spend close to a billion dollars each year on marketing aimed at children under age 12, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An FTC investigation found that in 2006 alone, food product cross promotions involved about 80 movies, TV shows, or animated characters that appeal primarily to young children.

Although the selling power of these cross promotions is well known within the food industry, the impact of such marketing on children’s food preferences and food choices has not been widely investigated elsewhere. The newly published study was paid for by the nonprofit group the Rudd Foundation, which funds the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

“Obviously the food industry has studied the impact of character branding, but those studies are proprietary,” Yale doctoral candidate and study researcher Christina A. Roberto, tells WebMD.

The Yale study included 40 children aged 4 to 6 attending day care centers in New Haven, Conn., and their parents. It appears in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Kids Preferred ‘Scooby’ Snacks

Parents completed questionnaires designed to establish how much time their children spent watching TV or movies.

In the experiment phase of the study, each child was presented two separate packages containing the same snack. The packages were identical except for one thing: one had a sticker bearing the likeness of one of three cartoon characters — Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer, or Shrek.

The children were asked to taste each identical sample and tell the investigator if the two samples tasted the same or, if not, which one tasted better. They were also asked if the loved the food, liked it, disliked it, or hated it.

The experiment was conducted three times with each child: once with graham cracker sticks, once with gummy fruit-flavored snacks, and once with organic baby carrots.

As expected, more children said they preferred the taste of the graham crackers and gummies when the packages bore the likeness of one of the cartoon characters. More kids also said they preferred the taste of the cartoon-branded carrots, but the effect was weaker and failed to reach statistical significance.

SpongeBob Soybeans OK, Advocate Says

The Yale researchers say the findings confirm that branding food products with characters children recognize influences taste preferences, especially for high-calorie foods with little nutritional value.

They conclude that the use of licensed characters on such foods should be restricted, arguing that this would be more likely to improve the diets of children than using the familiar likenesses to sell healthy foods.

TV network Nickelodeon has licensed many of its most popular characters, including SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer, to several fruit and vegetable companies. In recent years their images have appeared on packages of fresh and frozen spinach, carrots, clementine oranges, and edamame (soybeans).

Margo Wootan, DSc, of the nutrition research and advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, says she sees no problem with putting the familiar cartoon images on these foods and other healthy foods kids should be eating.

The problem, she says, is that advertising budgets for such foods are small compared to highly processed foods like gummy fruit snacks, which she calls candy marketed as fruit.

“If the fruit and vegetable industry had more money to market their foods to kids, I would be very happy,” she says. “Junk foods are marketed in such sophisticated and persuasive ways, it is no surprise that these are the foods kids want to eat.”

The food industry trade group Manufacturers Association did not respond to a request for comment on the study from WebMD in time for publishing.

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your and your family’s nutrition, consider ordering a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. Autographed hard cover and soft cover copies are available here.

Kids follow parents’ lead on fruits and vegetables

Reuters Health has a story about a new study showing that parents who want their preschoolers to eat their fruits and vegetables should probably practice what they preach. In a study of more than 1,300 families, researchers found that when parents boosted their own consumption of fruits and vegetables, so did their young children.

My Take? Continue reading

Healthy Eating Help Kids’ Concentration in School – How can you help your kids?

HealthDay News is reporting that healthy foods should be included on the list of back-to-school supplies for your children. Dietitian Catherine Kraus explained that a healthy, balanced diet enables neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) to function more efficiently, resulting in improved concentration and memory.

My Take? Continue reading

Easy and healthy pre-school breakfasts and school lunches? How to help your kids.

USA TODAY is reporting that as kids are heading back to school, that many parents are scrambling for ideas for quick breakfasts and easy bagged lunches. USA TODAY asked two registered dietitians to give parents ideas for healthful meals to pack at home. 

My Take? Continue reading