Early childhood obesity prevention steps

Early childhood obesity prevention steps

At the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual meeting and Expo in Las Vegas this week obesity and diabetes are getting a lot of attention. Given that it’s an epidemic caused indisputably by the food industry, it’s heartening to hear them acknowledging their role and making a concerted effort to have an equally strong hand in developing solutions.

Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer for Pepsico gave a speech at the close of the educational series yesterday in which he suggested the food industry rename itself the “starch, sugar, and fat industry.” His tongue-in-cheek comment wasn’t entirely meant as a joke and that resonated with me and with many of us in the natural health industry.

The solution to diabetes and obesity

I’m all for technology making the world a better, safer, healthier place to live. But more often than not, at least historically, food technology seems to focus on how to make the most money for the fewest people at the highest cost to public health. It’s hard to stomach.

Particularly when doctors, scientists and nutritionists all tell us that the solution to obesity and diabetes already exists—a diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and as low as possible in processed foods. On its face this isn’t the best news for the “food industry” but it’s intriguing to be a part of the conversations and to see the innovations these simple truths inspire.

Early prevention steps

In a symposium on combating childhood obesity, Julie Mennella, PhD, of Monell Chemical Senses Center, shared data from some of her research showing that children’s preference for certain foods develops as early as the first few months of life. Mothers who consumed lots of vegetables while breastfeeding had an easier time introducing vegetables to their children as they got older. The flavor memories from mother’s milk—and even from the amniotic fluid during pregnancy—stuck with the infant into childhood, predisposing him or her to healthier foods.

Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences and the Helen A Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Penn State University, went on to share research demonstrating that actions as simple as portion control and limiting choice in food can drastically improve a child’s nutrition. Just like adults, kids eat more when more is put in front of them. So controlling portion size at the table is the first step to balancing caloric intake with actual energy requirements in order to prevent weight gain.

What’s more, Rolls found that when kids were given a larger portion of vegetables—without other foods on the plate to compete—kids voluntarily ate more veggies. When the vegetable portion was doubled and given first at mealtime, vegetable consumption increased 37 percent. That’s 37 percent more nutrient-dense, calorie-small foods that kids need to stay healthy and active.

No parent wants meal time to turn into a battle every night, but these seem like simple steps all parents can take to get ahead of their kids’ health and prevent future generations of obese, diabetic Americans. Then again, I’m not a parent.

What do you do to get your kids to eat healthy? What do you think the food industry’s role should be in turning this fat ship around?

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