Archive for the ‘CHILDREN & NUTRITION’ Category

October 31st is a fun time. Halloween, one of the world’s oldest holidays, mingles tricks of fictitious goblins and ghosts with treats of candy. Derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals, the holiday is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve and remains a celebration in many parts of the world. In the United States, it is the second most popular holiday, after Christmas, for decorating, candy, and costume sales.

Puritan traditions in the early years of our nation restricted the holiday. During the 19th century, the migration of some two million Irish brought Halloween to the United States. Trick-or-treat became the main event of this holiday for children in our country and Canada. Children shuffle from house to house seeking goodies, especially candy. Both children and adults dress in costumes of favorite characters.

Commercialization of Halloween in the U. S. began around the turn of the 20th century. According to the National Confectioners Association, each year more than 75 percent of Americans plan to give candy to trick-or-treaters. And Americans’ favorite Halloween candy? Chocolate, of course, with candy corn in second place.

Halloween is the largest candy-eating event of the year. Other than gaining weight or developing tooth decay, are there dangers in eating too much candy? The American Chemical Society gave this some thought in 2016 and concluded that sugar from large amounts of candy consumed in one sitting might be lethal. The probability is unlikely since most would become sick before eating enough to harm them. Based on research and mathematical equations using rats, theoretically, 1,627 pieces of candy corn eaten in one sitting could be toxic to humans. One fun-size piece of candy has about 75 calories. Eating 262 pieces equates to about 20,000 calories. If it doesn’t kill you, your conscience may as you figure out how to work off those added pounds.

While dying from an overload of Halloween candy isn’t likely, use caution in making your choices. If you are over 40, consuming two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks may cause irregular heart rhythm. The sweetening compound, glycyrrhizin, in black licorice may lower potassium levels in the body resulting in high blood pressure and other heart-related problems. This candy can also interact with medications, herbal products, and dietary supplements.

As you observe this special holiday of sweet treats, keep in mind the outcomes of eating too many sweets. Teach children about moderation. The American Heart Association warns against allowing them to have large amounts of candy. Set a good example and use discretion in how much you eat. Make the holiday a treat but avoid the trick of too many calories.




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One-third of America’s children are overweight or obese. The beckoning calls of fast-foods, grocery aisles laden with high-calorie temptations, and ubiquitous bloated vending machines with high-salt high-fat offerings often sabotage healthy eating. What can be done to help children choose wisely and lose weight?

Education programs with simple solutions for weight-loss help children and parents. Studies in the 1990s showed that when overweight children attended educational classes on nutrition, one-third decreased their weight by twenty percent. Education of parents without their kids showed equal weight improvement for their off-spring. Parents recognized the damage of excessive weight to their children’s health.

What do parents need to know? They generally control food brought into the home. When buying trends shift toward more healthful eating, it impacts the entire family, especially children. Parents, who more readily understand the seriousness of their children’s weight problems, prepare and present meals lower in calories and higher in nutrient-dense foods. Substituting healthful snacks of fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese, or other nutritious foods for salty, fatty, and sweet foods offer a great start for controlling children’s weight.

More importantly, parents serve as role-models. Young children mimic what they see at home. Parents who eat healthy foods and exercise provide an invaluable example that will encourage children. What will you do? If you are a parent, check reliable sources for information. Below are resources that can guide you in combating excessive weight gain in your children.




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Weight problems among children continue to escalate. In the United States, nearly seventeen percent have a body mass index (BMI) that constitutes obesity. Boys aged six through nineteen years seem to represent the most vulnerable group. Obese children more often become obese adults and susceptible to a multitude of weight-related health problems.  

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the top five energy (calorie) sources for one to eighteen-year-olds included grain desserts (cookies, cakes, and granola bars), pizza, carbonated beverages, yeast breads, and chicken. Nearly forty percent of total calories excluded nutrient-dense healthful foods. Instead, solid fats and added sugar provided empty calories with little to no nutritive value.   

Sweetened carbonated beverages topped the list of sources for added sugar. Those, plus fruit drinks, made up nearly fifty percent of added sugars in the diets of most age and demographic groups. Five-year-old girls who consumed carbonated drinks had higher percentages of body fat, greater waist circumferences, and higher BMIs than their counterpart non-consumers. Diets of those same five-year-olds included fewer foods with essential nutrients, less milk, and higher levels of sugar.

How can trends of escalating high-fat, high-sugar foods among children be changed? Taste, acquired at an early age, is a powerful contributor to high intakes of sugar. Repeated early exposure to specific foods influences choices of infants and children. Preferences in early years prevail in later life.

Adults involved in the care and training of children serve as role models. Their influence on food patterns helps determine whether children will develop food habits to help them become healthier adults.  

Initial steps for change begin with education of parents. Second, communities and schools have responsibilities for making healthful foods available. Sweetened beverages shipped to schools increased eighty-eight percent from the 2004-2005 school year to the 2009-2010 school year. Altered policies to limit availability of less-healthy choices in vending machine and access to high-sugar drinks can help reduce the increasing incidence of obesity.   

Source:  Rae-Ellen W. Kavey. “How Sweet It Is: Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Risk in Childhood.” J Amer Dietetic Assoc. 110:10 (2010): 1456-1460.

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School lunch programs have become more than school lunch. Many schools provide afternoon snacks. They design programs to give children a nutritional boost in a structured and supervised environment that is safe, fun, and educational.

Not all schools participate in the afternoon snack program. For those that do, snacks must meet standard requirements. Children receive at least two servings of the following four components:

  • Milk
  • Meat or meat substitute such as peanut butter
  • Fruit or vegetable or full-strength fruit or vegetable juice
  • Whole grain or enriched bread or cereal

When after-school programs aren’t available and your child requires afternoon care from others, send a healthful snack to curb  hunger between lunch and dinner. Excellent choices include fruits or snack bars high in nutrients and low in sugar and fat.

Good eating habits, including snacks, formed in younger years pay dividends in better health in later years.

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The hustle and bustle to get school supplies, new clothes, and adapt to schedule changes may cause parents to neglect the importance of their child’s school lunch. Each day more than fifty-five percent of America’s children choose a lunch provided by the school. Forty percent of those children admit the significant role their friends play in whether or not they eat that school lunch.

Parents, however, also influence choices and serve as role models. The foods parents eat will more likely appeal to their children. Thus, parents’ attitudes and practices make a difference. The following tips adapted from recommendations by the American Dietetic Association help assure your child will eat healthier at school.

  • Encourage healthy eating by speaking positively about school lunches and workers.
  • Post a copy of the school menu on your refrigerator and ask the school for nutritional information about it. Your interest shows concern for your child’s health.
  • Discuss the menu with your child and teach which selections are healthier. Children don’t automatically know which foods are best for them. They need help in making wise choices and understanding the importance of a healthy diet.
  • Meet the school foodservice staff. If possible, occasionally visit the school and have breakfast or lunch with your younger child. Your involvement demonstrates care about your child’s environment and the foods available when away from you.
  • For those days when the school serves favorite foods of hamburgers, tacos, or pizza, encourage your child to add a salad, fruit, and/or yogurt or milk.

As you plan for another school year, don’t forget healthy food choices. Good nutrition is an important part of learning.

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