Thursday, June 16, 2005

Portion Size for Kids Matters

Researchers at Cornell University published findings of a study exploring children's eating habits in the June issue of the journal Appetite, and found that the most powerful predictor for how much children eat is how much food is put on their plate.

For years many have held the idea that children self-regulate appetite and will not eat more than they require. Research is showing that this is simply not true and David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology at Cornell said, "These findings suggest that both the onus of controlling children’s weight -- both in causing overweight in children as well as in its prevention -- must rest squarely in the hands of parents and other caregivers."


The study was led by Levitsky and Gordana Mrdjenovic, who monitored the food intake of 16 preschool children, ages 4-6, for five to seven consecutive days in day-care centers, and parents kept a food diary of what their children ate in the evenings and weekends. Where previous studies were conducted in laboratories, this one was in a natural settings where environmental factors can play a very powerful role in determining a child’s food intake.

"We found that the more food children are served, the more they eat, regardless of what they’ve eaten previously in the day, including how big their breakfast was," said Levitsky. "We also found that the more snacks children are offered, the greater their total daily food and calorie intake."

This study adds to a previous study at Cornell that reported that children do not adjust for the amount of food they eat to compensate for how many sweetened drinks they have either at meals or between meals. And another study that Levitsky was part of that reported that the more food young adults are served, the more they eat.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last two to three decades;
  • currently 1 child in 5 is overweight

The increase is in both children and adolescents, and in all age, race and gender groups. Obese children are now developing diseases;

  • Type 2 diabetes, that used to occur only in adults
  • greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke in adulthood

Overweight children not only suffer more health problems but also,

  • social discrimination
  • low self-esteem
  • and depression

Parents, you have the greatest influence on not only how your children eat and what your children eat, but also how much your children eat.

  • Be sure you're serving nutrient-dense, quality foods!
  • Start your child's meal with a child's portion of food - don't load up their plate!
  • Choose snacks wisely - don't offer junk foods!
  • Choose beverages carefully - no soda or sugar-sweetened beverages!
  • Limit snack times - children don't necessarily "need" a snack to make it to the next meal - allow snacks only when the child cannot make it until the next meal or offer only a small "nibble" or "taste" of something light to satisfy without adding too many calories

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