So I didn’t watch the Oscars. Sue me. I saw one of my good friends perform instead! It was awesome… I took some pictures, we’ll see if any turned out! And pretty much all I’ve done today is eat strawberries and pretend to do work (aka get nothing done). I decided to go with a hopefully-informative and possibly boring post today…
I alluded to a Developmental Psychology project I did last week. I managed to talk my whooole group into getting on the food&nutrition bandwagon and do a report on how we teach children about nutrition/influence their eating habits. Here are the main points we focused on…
Children who eat dinner with their family almost every day are 1.5 times more likely to consume the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables per day than children who eat with the family never, or rarely (Gilman, Rifas-Shiman, Frazier, Rockett, Camargo, Field, Berkey, and Colditz, 2000). This may be more of a function of increased opportunities for modeling healthy choices (as discussed below) or may be more focused on the meal itself. Similarly, introducing television at mealtimes can increase consumption of red meats and salty snacks Coon, Goldberg, Rogers & Tucker, 2001). It has actually been shown to decrease the amount eaten by 2-3 year olds during the particular meal, but increase their caloric consumption overall (Francis & Birch, 2006). In part this is because the television distracts from satiety signals and from the experience of eating.
Modeling good behavior
Multiple studies (such as one by Vereckeen & Maes, 2010) have been done finding significant correlations between the snack choices of parents and their children; whether this is a question of availability or modeling is up for some debate, but there’s no doubt that kids learn a lot from their parents, including food preferences. I know I probably gained some of my ridiculous love of all things bread from my equally carb-addicted mother… ;)
On the more negative side, one study also found a strong correlation between parents’ need to eat in response to stress and similar trends in their children. Parents who eat for emotional reasons model this behavior, and their children tend to do the same (Brown & Ogden, 2004).
Controlling Food Intake
Of course, setting food-rules is not an altogether negative thing; being entirely lenient and permissive in feeding style has been shown as correlated with an increased consumption of sweets and soft drinks (Vereecken, Legiest, De Bourdeaudhui, & Maes, 2009). But too much control can also have negative effects… Stringent food rules tend to be correlated with increased consumption of unhealthy foods, and force-feeding kids (i.e. making them clear their plate every time, or eat when they aren’t hungry) disrupts satiety signals and the child’s natural ability to calorically regulate. Using food as a reward can also tamper with the child’s relationship with food, and increase the child’s desire for the reward food (Sleddens, Kremers, De Vries & Thijs, 2010). It also adds an emotional component makes eating seem like an action based on thought rather than a need to refuel our bodies.
Ultimately, I think this is the fundamental problem. Much of the way we learn about food as children emphasizes thinking about what we should eat, rather than listening to our body’s internal mechanisms that can help guide our consumption. We are told to eat everything on our plate, rather than the amount that makes us satisfied; we are told that we should be eating certain foods to influence our body shape (how many diet magazines are we exposed to, even at a young age?). This simultaneous disconnect and obsession with food seems to me to be a core reason for both the epidemic of obesity and eating disorders in modern society.
In general, teaching children about nutrition becomes a balancing act: finding a way to incorporate some rules, making healthy food available without necessarily creating “forbidden” foods, and hoping to foster a generally healthy outlook on eating as fuel for our bodies (in addition to being a pleasurable experience!).
Reading about all of this was extremely interesting for me… I think my parents mostly did things right, and I still had a somewhat complicated relationship with food at times, but I was mostly a healthy eater. I definitely remember eating spinach and feta salads as a middle-schooler when some of my friends still thought anything green was disgusting. Nowadays I’m still the vegetable enthusiast among many meat-and-potatoes-type friends. So they must have done something right. ;)
How were you taught about food? Or, if you’re a parent, how do you (intend to) teach your children about nutrition/food choices?
Anyways, sorry if this bored you to tears, I just thought it was interesting and I had fun reading/writing bits about it. :)