Study: Poor Eating Habits--Not Just Diet--Jeopardize Kids’ Health

Certain eating habits, including meals served in front of the TV, can lead to higher cholesterol levels in preschoolers, potentially putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease as adults, according to a study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The researchers analyzed the eating behaviors and lipid levels of 1,076 kids, ages 3 to 5, and found that the less healthy the youngsters’ eating habits were, the higher their levels of bad cholesterol were.

“It shows that we should pay attention to how children eat, not just what they eat,” Dr. Nav Persaud, a family physician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto who led the study, told CTV News.

Parental questionnaires were used to evaluate the preschoolers’ eating behavior, with scores based on numbers of meals consumed daily, if kids were allowed to decide how much to eat, whether or not frequent drinking left them with a poor appetite at mealtime, and if they had any trouble with gagging or swallowing food.

The kids’ height, weight, and BMI was checked and they were given an assessment by a dietician that included their nutritional history and 3-day recall of foods consumed. The study also looked at parents’ level of concern about their kids’ eating patterns.

After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that preschoolers with the highest cholesterol typically had problematic behaviors that parents can easily modify–thus reducing risk for future heart problems. Avoiding these three common mistakes can also help prevent childhood obesity and enhance your child’s overall wellness:

Mistake #1: Eating in front of a screen. As I report in my book, The Omni Diet, distracted eating is unhealthy for both kids and adults, since it leads to mindless overeating and is a frequent contributor in weight gain. Indeed, a recent study found that distracted eating can cause people to eat up to 50 percent more calories during a meal or snack, compared to attentive eating.

The healthy solution: One of the best ways to avoid what I called “zombie mode” for eating is having a specific place in your home, such as the dining room or kitchen, where you and your kids eat all meals and snacks without any form of screen-based entertainment. Instead, focus on enjoying tasty, wholesome food and family conversation. As I discussed in an earlier article, the simple act of sitting down together for family meals can have many remarkable health benefits–if the TV is turned off.

Mistake #2: Giving kids sweet drinks. Not only do sugary beverages leave kids too full to eat the nutritious foods they need for optimal growth and health, but many experts consider these drinks to be the leading culprit in the childhood obesity epidemic. Also known as “liquid candy,” sugar-laden beverages are also dangerous, or even lethal, for adults, with a recent study linking sweet drinks to more than 180,000 deaths around the world from heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

The healthy solution: The simplest–and safest-way to protect kids from the many hazards of sugary drinks is not to have them in your home. And soda pop isn’t the only dietary villain. Also watch out for drinks with an unwarranted “health halo” that are actually loaded with liquid calories, such as vitamin water, sports drinks, and fruit juice. For better ways to help kids to stay hydrated in hot weather, read my blog post on deliciously healthy summer drinks for kids.

Mistake #3. Food policing. Up to 66 percent of parents pressure kids to clean their plates, even their kids are overweight or obese, according to another new study. And it’s even common for parents to try to control how much teenagers eat, while younger kids may be even more likely to be pushed to finish meals after they say they’re full.

The healthy solution: Instead of teaching kids to rely on external cues, such as the time of day or how much food is on their plate, when deciding how much to eat, children should be encouraged to listen to their body and appetite. My husband and I are comfortable with our daughter, Chloe, missing an occasional meal if she refuses to eat what’s on her plate. We just remind her that there’s an abundance of delicious, wholesome food available for her in our home. When she’s hungry, she’ll eat. Stocking your pantry and fridge with the foods I recommend in The Omni Diet and The Brain Warrior’s Way means that every dietary choice you and your kids make will be a healthy one.


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