A toddler’s sweet tooth may be an indicator of future weight gain, according to a new study from the University of Michigan (U-M). The research, published online April 18 in the journal Pediatrics, found that toddlers who went for sweet snacks instead of salty snacks had a higher risk of increased body fat.
“Eating in the absence of hunger is associated with being overweight among older children, but this is the first time we’ve seen this link in children as young as toddlerhood,” senior author Julie C. Lumeng, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said in a university news release. “We found that toddlers’ eating sweet, but not salty, tasty foods after they already ate a filling meal puts children at a great risk of weight gain.”
For the study, Lumeng and her colleagues asked 209 low-income mothers of toddlers to have their child fast for one hour and then provide a substantial lunch of two different foods and a drink. After lunch, each child was presented with a tray of sweet treats such as chocolate chip cookies, and salty treats such as potato chips. The children were allowed to eat as many treats as they wanted.
Findings showed that the kids who consumed the sweet rather than the salty snacks and who became upset when the tray was removed were at a higher risk for excess weight gain by the time they were 3 years old.
“Our study suggests that those kids who particularly like sweets are at greater risk of weight gain,” Lumeng told Fox News. “Depending on the child, some families may need to be more vigilant than others about keeping sweets out of the house and limiting how easily accessible they are.”
According Pamela Reichert-Anderson, RD, a nutritionist at Cohen’s Children’ Medical Center in New York, that may be easier said than done. Sugary foods are everywhere she told HealthDay, making the job of keeping kids away from sweets especially hard.
“The likelihood of kids eating in the absence of hunger is increased with exposure to large portions of palatable, inexpensive, prepackaged and energy-dense foods in today’s ‘obesogenic’ society,” she said.
However, Reichert-Anderson does not recommend restricting sweets, saying that it makes the food of “more interest in the future.” Instead, she recommends parents teach their children to be “mindful” when they eat sweet treats.
“Teaching your children how to eat these foods, by taking the time to eat and enjoy the taste, as well as consuming them in moderation, will help develop healthy eating habits,” she said.
In addition, Reichert-Anderson noted that a home stocked with foods that parents want their children to eat, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and “presenting them in a child-friendly manner” will also help promote healthy eating habits. “Parents have the job of teaching children how to eat well and being a good role model,” she added.