So it’s official–kids who eat healthy food also eat junk food. Relax News said on Jan. 12, that this was the finding of Ohio State University researchers. Did that surprise you? It certainly shocked the folks at OSU. They expected to find that kids ate fruits, vegetables, milk and other nutritious foods to substitute junk food. They hoped to prove that childhood obesity could be overturned simply by turning kids on to healthy food. But any parent could have told OSU scientists that kids who eat healthy food will happily eat “unhealthy” if allowed to. Junk food is highly addictive and children are prime targets for addiction, having as yet undeveloped limit switches. Some kids just like to eat, period. And that is much healthier than picky eaters and parents who cater to their weird eating habits.
But the findings weren’t as bleak as OSU researchers made out, especially not in demographics and kinds of junk food consumed. First, the study was conducted on a group made up largely of underprivileged kids (a sector long thought to harbor the poorest diets and eating habits). But of the 357 children, ages 2-5, one third didn’t drink soda pop and 30 percent had never had fast food. Half ate at least two fruits a day. It would be curious to see the numbers in more affluent areas. Rich parents are presumed to be more “enlightened” but if junk food consumed in “better” schools is anything to go by, it’s doubtful. Wealthier students are just as likely to frequent fast food places maybe more so because they have more disposable income. Childhood obesity has been linked to poverty, but the trick to curbing obesity is with healthy lifestyle, rich or poor.
So how can parents curb kids’ junk food cravings? The OSU study suggested focusing on the positive–add good food instead of nixing bad foods. That won’t curb childhood obesity, but it might make kids fatter if they’re eating double the food! And whether kids eat healthy food and junk, it’s still good to base the diet on healthy food. The best way to curb kids’ junk food craving and childhood obesity is to feed them well and make them exercise. Make nutritious and appealing meals. Cook healthier variations of junk food–mac and cheese, pizza, burgers, fried chicken. Children will be less likely to overindulge in non-nutritious foods if they’re full of good stuff! Parents, pack nutritious lunches with protein, whole grain, vegetables, dairy and fruit. Teach them that fruit is dessert. They might have a few cookies or chips but delete those if kids aren’t eating their lunch. To end childhood obesity, never ever give kids pop.
Curbing childhood obesity is about changing the food attitude–don’t use food as the only reward and never punish with it. Don’t force kids to “clean their plates” if portion sizes were determined by parents. They should be encouraged to eat all they take, but not force fed if eyes are occasionally bigger than stomachs. Withhold dessert if kids have just picked at dinner. Wrap the food up and get it out when they are hungry later. Only when they’ve eaten a decent meal should the cookies come out.