Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kids and Food Labels

Here's a story we ran on WHOI this week that I thought you might want to read:

Excess weight continues to be an important health concern for many of America’s children. And the problem starts at a young age.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Nearly 14 percent of two- to five-years olds are overweight.

  • Among those 6 to 11, nearly 19 percent are overweight.

  • Over 17 percent of the 12- to 19-year-olds are overweight.
Overweight children are more likely to keep those excess pounds and remain overweight as adults. In addition, overweight children have many of the same health issues seen in overweight adults (like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol).

Weight gain occurs when the body takes in more calories than it uses. The ideal way to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, is to balance calories and energy expenditure through a healthy diet and regular exercise. The CDC reports many children don’t eat properly. Only 20 percent of American children eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fewer than 40 percent meet fiber recommendations. And 85 percent of adolescent and teen girls don’t get enough calcium.

Keli Hawthorne, R.D., a Registered Dietitian with Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, says the best way to gauge how well you meet dietary guidelines is to use a nutrition facts label found on packaged foods. Food labels are based on a 2000-calorie/day diet and are relevant for most Americans four and older. (Parents who have a child with specific nutritional concerns should seek advice from a registered dietitian.)

Hawthorne says there are several important things to look for on a nutrition
facts label. First is serving size. The top line lists the amount per serving as well as the number of servings in the container or package. This number is important because looks can be deceiving. A food that appears to be a single-serving package may actually contain one-and-half or more servings. Thus, if a package contains two servings and all of it is consumed, the nutritional values must be doubled. Second, check the number of calories and calories from fat (the second line). According to the FDA, 100 calories is a considered a moderate amount. 40 calories is low and 400 calories is high. The number of calories from fat is important because even low calorie foods can have high amounts of fat.

The next few lines list the amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium. Hawthorne recommends consumers follow a “5 and 20 rule,” with five percent being a low amount of the nutrient and 20 percent being a high amount. Fat, cholesterol and sodium are nutrients that, in excess, can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. So less is better – aim for 5 percent. There is no percent value for trans fat. However, this fat should be limited because it has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease.

The next lines list carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and proteins. Look for foods that are low in sugars and high in fiber. Children need protein to build and repair muscle, blood and organs.

The last few lines list important nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Using the same 5- and 20- rule, look for foods that have more of these ingredients – aiming closer to 20 percent. Health experts say it’s important to teach young children the importance of good nutrition because poor dietary habits in childhood can have lasting effects, leading to significant arterial plaque by 30 or 40. Hawthorne says children as young as 9 can be taught to read and understand a food label, enabling them to make wiser choices in the foods they eat.

Children’s Nutrition Research Center
Make Your Calories Count
Cartoon Network

It makes sense that kids need to be taught how to eat healthy and they learn from example. I guess some of us aren't setting the best example. I can barely get my four-year-old to eat anything, but my one-year old eats everything. I think the way the child naturally eats should be taken into consideration when we teach kids how to eat.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Maria said...

I have taken a lot of heat over the past 16 months about what I chose to feed my son, but I truly believe that I am doing him a favor. I offer an abundance of fruit and veggies, and as a result, he loves to eat them-- especially berries. I offer a variety of healthy foods at each meal, and over the course of a week, he eats the right amounts. My "key" is not caving and offering McDonalds, chips, and other crap as a substitute for healthy snacks and meals. Sure it takes more of my time, but in the long run it is worth it!

A problem that I think we, as a society, have is determining portion size. It is especially hard if you dine out.

I'm not sure exactly what your comment at the end means. Your 4 year old doesn't eat much, but I don't think that is a problem. The problem would be if he only ate processed foods with no other option. said...

The problem with my four-year-old is I don't feel like he gets the nutrients he needs. He does eat a lot of fruit and carbs, but it's hard to get him to eat protein and veggies. He has never been a big fan. Even as a baby, he spit out veggies and chicken. It is a struggle. My youngest will eat anything I put on his plate, so he is the healthiest little eater I know!
Kudos to you for feeding your son a healthy diet. People should not be giving you grief for that!

Maria said...

There are other sources of protein besides meat. Does he like those? Sorry... not my problem to fix, but maybe he is getting what he needs elsewhere. :-D Good luck! said...

Yah, he will eat peanut butter and refried beans, but not that often. I feel like he would never eat if I didn't make him. Frustrating!

Diane Vespa said...

I have a super-picky eater, too. It does seem to get better as they get older. Just don't give up. When you least expect it... boom!
My son actually ate a salad last week! said...

A salad? Wow! That would be a huge milestone at our house!

Shannon said...

The thing I never see in these chid obesity stories is what role formula feeding vs. breastfeeding might play.

We know there are extra, unused calories in formula, but forget the actual nutritional content for a minute. I see vast differences in the way formula fed and breastfed babies actually *eat.* Breastfed babies who are fed on demand learn to respond to their bodies' cues for hunger, and learn to stop eating when they're full. A couple of hours later when the milk has all been digested, they eat again.

I notice that bottle-feeding parents seem to quickly increase the amount their babies are eating (not all do of course, but I recently watched parents feed a 9-week old baby almost 10 oz. in one sitting...) and will try to finish off a bottle even when a baby is no longer showing signs of hunger. And they'll say, "but he's still eating it!"

Think about it - do you ever eat when you're not hungry because the food is right there? What if it was just dripping into your mouth for you too?

I can't blame the parents... with the price of formula I would want to make sure none was wasted too. And we're all just trying to do the best for our kids. So many cultures equate feeding with love... and I see a lot of well-intentioned grandparents and aunts and uncles who just want to feed the baby, even if baby really isn't all that hungry. My own MIL once gave my daughter about 6 oz. of breastmilk - a good TWO feedings worth - when I was only gone for 45 min. and had just nursed her before I left. She just didn't know what else to do when she started fussing, so she resorted to what she knows best - feeding.

I wouldn't worry too much about your son, Jen. Remember a serving at his age is not that much. Maybe he's just a budding vegetarian? LOL!

Maria said...

Great point Shannon. Bottle fed babies also continue to eat because their "suck" need is not satisfied. I forget the medical term for all that, but basically, they don't work to suck and feel the need to continue to suck, whereas breastfed babies work harder and are more satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Exercise!! Our kids do not have the best eating habits around, they love sweets. They do however get tons of exercise. I have never worried about portions, my daughter is 10 and can put down a steak and potato meal with rolls and anything else they have, ice cream dessert ect. She is solid as a rock and you cannot pinch an inch, she does however get an incredible amount of exercise. My son is a more picky eater and gets less exercise than his sister but he tends to eat less as well, he still has a high activity level, just not as high as his sister. I do try and buy things that do not have High fructose corn syrup, I opt for real sugar instead. I truly believe that most kids just do not get enough aerobic exercise each day. Running, biking, swimming something you can incorporate as part of their lifestyle at a very young age will go a long way towards improving the quality of their young lives. Restricting calories in a young growing human as opposed to just increasing their activity level has just never made sense to me. said...

Shannon, I wonder too if he just has vegetarian tendencies. I don't eat red meat. I do eat fish, chicken and turkey, but I didn't start doing that until I was in high school. And that was mainly because I wasn't getting enough iron. So, we definitely don't have as much meat at our house as most families do. My husband laughs because I don't even know how to cook a lot of things he ate when he was a kid! said...

Oh- and I will look up some info on breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I know I have read studies in the past. I'll see what I can find for a future post.

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