August 29, 2007

Eating less fat may be unhealthy for children

The current obsession with low fat diets may have unhealthy implications for children under the age of 2. The following media releases highlight the importance of not eliminating fat in children’s diets and parents eating habits often influence the eating behaviour of their children.

Low-fat diets can be dangerous for children.

MANHATTAN - Eating less fat may be a healthy thing for adults to do, but putting children on a low-fat diet may do more harm than good, according to Paula Peters, assistant professor of foods and nutrition at Kansas State University.

"When it comes to children's diets, too much emphasis on fat and calorie content can be dangerous," Peters said. "Kids are still growing and need calories and fat to develop properly. For that reason, we certainly don't want to eliminate fat in the diet of children under the age of 2."

To meet children's nutritional needs, parents should be more concerned with providing healthy food choices rather than with the number of calories and fat grams the foods have, Peters said.

"I'm concerned that too much emphasis on fat and calories could push a child into an eating disorder later on," she said. "We are seeing more eating disorders in younger children."

That doesn't mean a steady diet of high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods is OK for children, Peters said. As with adults, moderation is the key. If your child snacks on a cookie or two, try making the next snack a fruit or vegetable or even a dairy product such as cheese or yogurt, she said.

Since children develop at different rates and expend different amounts of energy, calorie needs vary by child. Peters said parents would be better off following the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid than worrying about the number of calories a child eats in a day. The pyramid recommends the number of servings from the five main food groups that adults and children should eat daily for a balanced diet.

Prepared by Beth Bohn.

On a similar note, what parents eat often influence the eating behaviour of their children.

K-State dietitian explains how parents can encourage healthy eating.

MANHATTAN - Helping children learn to eat right isn't difficult if Mom or Dad has healthy eating habits already.

"Family environment is one major influence of eating behaviors," said Linda Griffith, assistant professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University. "Food attitudes of parents have been shown to be a strong predictor of food preferences among children."

Since children are likely to imitate those around them, they need the best guidance possible when it comes to eating, and that means starting with breakfast. Griffith said eating breakfast helps establish a regular eating pattern, which helps regulate appetite and discourages snacking and overeating. There are a lot of ready-to-eat breakfast foods, including bagels, yogurt and fruit; however, if children don't like traditional breakfast foods, serving last night's leftovers is OK, too.

And while encouraging children to eat right is important, parents shouldn't force control on their children's eating habits. Many parents wrongly assume that children don't know the difference between feeling hungry and full. Children may not know they need peas, but they do know how big a serving of peas they want to eat.

"Parents should foster environments of learning where children are provided opportunities to make healthful food choices," Griffith said. "Allowing children to make decisions about what and how much to eat provides the child an opportunity to learn how to adjust their eating patterns."

Because it is important for children to recognize when they are full, Griffith said encouraging or forcing children to clean their plates bypasses that cue process, which can lead to disordered eating.

If hunger strikes between meals, children can have a snack, as it helps promote health and pleasure in life. Allowing children to have an occasional cookie is fine, Griffith said. However, limits should be set on how much sweets are consumed in one day. Ready-to-eat foods such as cottage cheese, cereal, juice and milk would be more healthful snack choices, she said.

When children go to school, parents can still have an influence on what their children eat. Griffith said parents should become familiar with school menus and talk to their children about available food choices. Parents can also participate on parental advisory committees for the school's food service program and support nutrition learning efforts at school by reinforcing good nutrition practices at home.

For children who prefer taking their lunches to school, Griffith said parents and children can jointly plan and pack meals that are healthful, as allowing children to be involved in planning their school lunch helps deter the temptation to trade carrots for cookies.

For more information contact Linda Griffith at 785-532-0151.

Used with permission.

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