Currently browsing posts about: Brian-Wansink

Oct 27 2010

Eating Liberally asks Marion: Is stealth the way to healthy eating for kids?

Every now and then, Kerry Trueman tosses a “Let’s Ask Marion” question at me, and these are invariably a challenge.  Today’s: “Is stealth the way to healthy eating for kids?”

(With a click of her mouse, Eating Liberally’s Kerry Trueman, aka kat, corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Feed Your Pet Right, Pet Food Politics, What to Eat, Food Politics, and Safe Food):

KT: NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story today about “stealth” strategies that some schools and researchers are employing to get kids to eat healthier foods–for example, by sneaking pureed vegetables into a line of cafeteria foods being marketed under the name “Hidden Healthies.”

But doesn’t this approach reinforce the perception kids have that vegetables taste lousy? David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition, pointed out that “Taste is a suggestion more than anything else. If you think something is going to taste really good — if you’ve been told by others that it tastes good — you build that into your head when you eat it.”

A researcher who’s experimenting with enhanced cafeteria lighting to make healthy foods appear more appealing to kids told NPR, “We got to figure out some things so that the last thing in the world they know is that we’re trying to get them to eat well.”

We know that kids (and plenty of grown-ups!) turn up their noses at foods that are presented to them as healthy. Kids have also come to expect that their preferences should be catered to, which is why carrot and apple growers have begun packaging their products to resemble snack foods like potato chips.

In short, veggies have a serious pr problem. Do these strategies strike you as a good solution?

Dr. Nestle: Oh no! Not stealth again. I thought we were done with that in 2007 when we had to live through the plagiarism fight between Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, and Missy Lapine’s Sneaky Chef, both of them pushing stealth strategies.

I remember being given hamburgers as a kid and how betrayed and condescended to I felt when they turned out to contain ground spinach—a vegetable I detested at the time but now think is terrific, especially when young and tender. Kids’ tastes do change, and should be encouraged in an honest way.

That is why I am so intrigued by the approach shown in the New York Times “Lunch Line Redesign” op-ed last week. Check out the way that Brian Wansink and his colleagues suggest redesigning lunch lines. These do nothing draconian or deceitful. Instead, they gently nudge kids to made healthier choices on their own.

How? By doing such things as putting salads near the cash register, using bowls instead of trays, and describing the foods more attractively. My favorite of these strategies is simply to ask the kids whether they would like a salad. All of these increase kids’ selection of healthier food choices.

But will the kids eat the foods? Of course they will. From my observations of school meals, the single most important indicator of whether the kids are eating healthfully is if the school food service people know their names and talk to them about what they are choosing. It helps a lot if the food tastes good, but kids respond to adults who care about what they eat.

When I hear parents say that the kids won’t eat anything healthy, I suspect that I’m talking to someone who isn’t willing to take adult responsibility for what kids eat and finds it easier to be stealthy than direct. Kids need to trust the adults in their lives and food should be used to instill trust, not destroy it.

This exchange appeared on the Huffington Post website on October 25 and elicited a response from Missy Chase Lapine, the original Sneaky Chef herself (reproduced with permission):

Dear Dr. Nestle,

I understand you had a bad experience with sneaky spinach as a child, but I respectfully disagree with your position that sneaking healthy food in kids’ meals is a bad idea. As the author of the Sneaky Chef cookbooks, I receive thousands of testimonials from parents to the contrary. They are thrilled that their kids are finally eating veggies–and most of the kids are in on the secret and love it.

The reason sneaking is needed is highlighted in the recent CDC report showing that all of the efforts and billions of dollars spent on nutrition education has failed. Everyone now knows that they SHOULD eat their veggies. The problem is HOW to get them to do it. Teaching alone is conclusively insufficient–we need to sneak and teach. They work hand in hand.

Sneaking veggies gives people an easy way to experience the benefits of eating veggies, yet lets them enjoy their favorite foods, like spaghetti and meatballs–-only now they’re loaded with spinach, broccoli, peas, wheat germ and cauliflower. This direct experience opens the door to learning.

Parents from around the world write me letters like this:

“Every time I use one of your healthy (and sneaky) tips or wonderful recipes, I just want to scream with joy because they eat it.” –Mindi B., TX

The bottom line is: combining “sneaking and teaching” works for everyone.

Respectfully,
Missy Chase Lapine, The Sneaky Chef

Not exactly everyone, if I may respectfully submit.  But I’m glad she wrote.  OK, readers: opinions, please!

Mar 27 2010

Increasing meal size in the Last Supper?

As readers of this blog know by now, I very much admire and enjoy the work of Brian Wansink, the Cornell professor who studies environmental cues (like portion size) that trigger overeating.

In his latest publication, he teamed up with his brother, a professor of religion at Virginia Wesleyan, to analyze the sizes of the plates, foods, and meals illustrated in classic paintings of the Last Supper created from the year 1000 to 2000.

According to their analysis, portion sizes began expanding in about 1400.

Alas, their data points end in the 1700s.

Were they really not able to find modern depictions?

Art historians: get to work!

Professor Wansink talks about this study in the Atlantic Food Channel.  And for a more recent look at the increase in portion sizes, see the paper I wrote with Lisa Young in the American Journal of Public Health.

Feb 16 2009

Expanding portion sizes in the Joy of Cooking

Brian Wansink’s latest paper is an analysis of the increasing size of servings and meals through multiple editions of the classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking. These, he finds, have increased by 35%.  My former doctoral student, Lisa Young, looked at how portion sizes began to balloon in the early 1980s in parallel with increasing calories in the food supply (from 3,200 to 3,900 per day per capita) and with rising rates of obesity.  She showed how readers using identical recipes were instructed to make far fewer cookies in newer editions of the Joy of Cooking and wrote about this phenomenon in her book, The Portion Teller.

I wrote about this last year in a letter to the New York Times: “To the Editor: I could not resist looking up the calories for the gorgeous chocolate chip cookie recipe given on July 9. That recipe calls for about 4 pounds of ingredients to make only 18 cookies, each of which runs 500 calories — one quarter of the amount needed by most people for an entire day. I’d call one of those cookies lunch or share it with three friends. By the way, a similar recipe in the 1975 “Joy of Cooking” made 45 cookies with just half the ingredients. These would be just under 100 calories each.”

The point of all this: larger portions have more calories! And you need no further explanation for rising rates of obesity.

Update February 18: Wansink is a professor at Cornell, and the Cornell Chronicle did a story on it.

Jun 10 2008

USDA’s Road to Healthville

Yesterday, I received a press announcement from the USDA with an invitation to join today’s press conference, “The Road to Healthville: Challenge to End Childhood Obesity.” The press release explains:

“This new approach represents a significant paradigm shift for USDA. For over 100 years USDA has been providing the public with nutritional guidance based on the latest science. However, as we know, waistlines have continued to expand over recent years…So what do we do in encourage healthy eating?

Dr. Brian Wansink, Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, has introduced a completely new approach — in a word “reminders.” If the public were to get a prompt or cue throughout the day (where we purchase food, prepare food, work and play), a subtle or gentle reminder, people will begin to respond with improved eating habits. Further, if corporations were enlisted in this effort with their extensive reach into the market-place to provide MyPyramid-based messaging and product development, there is reason to believe that healthier eating patterns and lifestyles will be adopted.”

Kellogg is among the charter members.  Today’s Kellogg press release lists what the company promises to do.  Uh oh. It’s developing a curriculum for K through 8 school kids.  Want to bet that Kellogg’s logo will be prominently displayed?

May 30 2008

USDA’s corporate challenge: the road to healthville?

I’ve just gotten a press release from the USDA announcing its “road to healthville” challenge. On June 10, the USDA will hold a multi-media event featuring “dozens of some of the Nation’s leading corporations stepping forward to help stem the tide of overweight and obesity among America’s young people with specific new, out-of-the-box initiatives. The program will be hosted by CNPP Executive Director Dr. Brian Wansink.”  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what food corporations will come up with.  Why am I thinking that out-of-the-box will not include stop marketing junk foods to kids, let alone making them.

Jan 24 2008

USDA’s new WIC standards: a great improvement!

Daniel from Ithaca writes about the USDA’s new nutritional standards for the WIC food packages for low-income pregnant women and children. He says, “it’s like I am on another planet,” meaning that he can’t believe that such good things are coming out of USDA, among them “More produce! Less juice! Less dairy! No full-fat milk! Dairy substitutes allowed! Fewer eggs! Whole grains! A greater emphasis on breastfeeding! He asks: Do you think that these changes, along with USDA’s hiring of Brian Wansink, will make for more straightforward Dietary Guidelines in 2010?

Thanks to Daniel for passing along this information. The WIC guidelines come out of a different part of USDA than the one that Brian Wansink heads but let’s hope that these changes–and his appointment–signal a new era in that agency, one that puts consumer interests first. One of Wansink’s jobs will be to oversee the appointment of USDA’s nominees to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee (the others come from the Department of Health and Human Services). Keep fingers crossed.

Jun 27 2007

Grocery Store Tricks

I was recently interviewed for a story on “10 things your grocery store doesn’t want you to know” (see it at msn health and fitness). The writer had some fun with What to Eat and honed in on the take home lessons and then some. She also quotes Brian Wansink, whose book, Mindless Eating, is one I assign to students to explain how something as simple as a large plate encourages people to eat more calories. Enjoy!