by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Kids’ diets

Oct 31 2007

Happy Halloween (the silly season)!

As a nutritionist, I often get asked what to do about treats on Halloween. I’m not the only one, and see what the New York Times did with our responses today. If you can’t bear to give kids candy, how about a small toy? Otherwise, just enjoy!

Oct 25 2007

Sneaky veggies: a good strategy?

Sneaking vegetables into desserts so kids will eat healthier foods seems like such a bad idea that I can’t believe anyone would do a book on it let alone two people with virtually identical recipes. Never mind plagiarism. Mimi Sheraton, the delightfully outspoken former restaurant critic of the New York Times writes on “A plague on both their houses.” She cites reasons: it’s the wrong nutrition message, it’s lying too your kids, there are better ways to get kids to eat foods they think they don’t like, and the amounts of vegetables sneaked into those brownies are too small to matter much. On this last point, she quotes me. Isn’t teaching kids to be adventurous eaters worth doing? Or am I missing some point here?

Oct 16 2007

Gummy bears prevent tooth decay?

How is this for the latest in dental research–give kids gummy bears and see whether they help prevent tooth decay when coated with xylitol, a non-nutritive, indigestible sweetener. This “Healthy Bears for Healthy Smiles” program is a research project at Case Western Reserve funded by a million dollar federal grant. The control group gets to eat organic gummy bears. Maybe if kids are forced to eat candy three times a day they will start thinking of it as medicine?

Oct 12 2007

Teaching kids about eating well: video game

I’ve just been sent this article about a Kaiser Foundation/Scholastic video game designed to teach kids about healthy eating. It’s in the form of a detective story–“Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective.” The article points out the irony of using video games to teach about diet and activity, but never mind. I can’t figure out how to make it work on my new computer so I haven’t tried it. Is it worthwhile? Useful? Fun for kids?

Oct 10 2007

Diet intervention in kids: what does it take?

Two studies showing good results of short-term dietary intervention in children now report follow-ups indicating that the results were not sustained beyond the period of intervention. The first, from the British Medical Journal, focused on getting kids to drink fewer sodas. The second report is of a maintenance program for overweight kids who had lost weight. In both cases, kids regained weight when the interventions stopped. The moral: helping kids eat healthfully has to be an ongoing process, meaning that there is no easy fix.

Sep 7 2007

Food Additives and Hyperactivity–Again!

I thought we were done with food additives as a cause of hyperactivity in kids years ago, but here it comes again. A new and well controlled study in The Lancet, funded by the British Food Standards Agency (which presumably has no axe to grind), reports higher average levels of hyperactivity in young children drinking a mix of sodium benzoate (a preservative) and food colors. For why these results surprise me, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the Feingold Diet, the additive-free diet developed decades ago to prevent hyperactivity in kids. The first Wikipedia paragraph says it all:

“The Feingold diet is a food elimination program developed by Ben F. Feingold, MD to treat hyperactivity. It eliminates a number of artificial colors and artificial flavors, aspartame, three petroleum-based preservatives, and (at least initially) certain salicylates. There has been much debate about the efficacy of this program. Some mainstream medical practitioners deny that it is of any value, while other medical practitioners, as well as many people living with ADHD and parents of children with ADHD, claim that it is effective in the management of ADHD as well as a number of other behavioral, physical and neurological conditions. The debate has continued for more than 30 years, involving not only consumers and physicians, but scientists, politicians, and the pharmaceutical and food industries.”

After this excellent beginning, the article gets so muddled that the editors warn: “The neutrality of this article is disputed.” Indeed. Until now, my reading of the science was that the more carefully the studies were done, the less benefit they showed. Even the best studies showed wide individual differences–most kids were unaffected by removing additives but a small percentage seemed to get better. This made the studies especially subject to biased interpretation.

This new study seems well done but again shows large individual differences, so expect the debates to continue. In the meantime, it’s good to remember that color additives go into processed foods to cover up flaws and make them look attractive. Kids don’t need to be eating highly processed foods. The study is another good reason to feed kids plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed foods.

Here’s what today’s New York Times has to say about the study.