There is an obesity problem in America. Educating children about eating a balanced diet is the most important thing we can do to prevent further increases in obesity. As a child, I had to stay at the dinner table until I ate all my vegetables. I remember one time that I sat at the kitchen table at least an hour after dinner was over, pouting over my turned-cold broccoli. I eventually choked it down. I learned that it’s important to eat a balanced diet, and now I choose to eat my broccoli. Thanks Mom and Dad. If children eat fresh fruits and vegetables from an early age, they will actually like to eat some of them. Just ask my 7-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew if they like beets and brussel sprouts. (They do). Any headway made on reducing childhood obesity depends on parents taking responsibility for their children’s diet and educating them about it.
Several studies based on exposing children to healthy foods by their parents increase children’s acceptance of that food. Giving a bite of vegetable to a child every day for 2 weeks exposes them to that food and increases the consumption and likability of that food. Dr. Lucy Cooke of the University College of London recently demonstrated that exposure to a healthy food followed by a tangible reward of a sticker increased their intake and liking of that food as well. (Not to brag, but I had a pretty big sticker box as a kid – and I never got any for eating vegetables!) There has been a lot of media coverage lately on a study claiming that children’s food choices were affected when silly names were associated with vegetables. Although the authors conclude that the silly names increased vegetable intake, I don’t think the experiment was well-controlled. The baseline vegetable consumption of the control group before the intervention was 1.8-23.5-fold higher than that of the treatment group, depending on the vegetable. That means, the children who were served the silly-named vegetables were eating a lot less vegetables at the beginning of the study (and intake at the end of the study was still less, for 3-out-of-4 vegetables, in the treatment group than the control group without the silly names). For example, if Paul in the control group ate 4 carrots at the beginning of the study, and he ate 5 carrots at the end, that would be a 1.25-fold increase. If Sally ate 1 carrot at the beginning of the study, and then they called carrots “X-ray Vision Carrots” and she ate 3 carrots, that’s a 3-fold increase. Look what happened when you gave carrots a silly name! You just can’t compare these groups well with the simple statistics they used. Perhaps these conclusions were made because the people who performed the study were marketing guys (and I believe, marketed loose data to the public). Nevertheless, children are influenced to some extent by marketing, but they are influenced more by what those around them (parents and peers) are doing. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children are eating a healthy diet.
Along the same lines, there is an uproar over the new government regulations for subsidized school lunches. I found the clip below from The Daily Show to be humorous (and fairly accurate) – it spawned this post (and the title). Children need to learn to eat healthier, but if parents and schools don’t teach them that, then the obesity rate will keep on rising. Advice to children in the immortal words of John Stewart: Eat your motherf*cking lunch.