Stories about: healthy eating for kids

Parents, leave the multivitamins in the bottle

By Carolyn Sax, MD, a primary care physician with the Pediatric Physicians’ Organization at Boston Children’s and practices at Hyde Park Pediatrics in Hyde Park and Milton, Mass.

Sax_CarolynParents often ask me whether I recommend multivitamins for their children, and in most situations I say no. This takes a lot of people by surprise. Vitamins sound like such a good thing, right?

The answer is actually somewhat complicated.  Foods that are naturally rich in vitamins are definitely a good thing, and many scientific studies have shown the benefits of eating a diet rich in nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and milk. But the vitamins themselves, when taken in pill form, can actually be harmful. Our body is most effective at using nutrients when they enter us directly from their natural food source. The healthful advantages of these nutrients depend on their food “packaging” to give their full healthful benefits, like iron found in spinach or all the vitamin E packed into an avocado. But researchers have yet to find any benefit from most vitamins taken in pill form. None of the major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The American Institute of Nutrition, The American Society for Nutrition, or The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend routine use of multivitamins.

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Our kids are what we eat

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report showing a reduction in childhood obesity rates among children 2 to 5. We should acknowledge that encouraging trend.

Still, overall, child obesity rates have seen a gradual increase over the last 14 years, according to the most recent data published by the JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics.

Obviously, we still have lots of work ahead of us—and by us, I mean parents.

Kids learn a lot from their parents’ attitudes and behaviors around eating. For many of us, that might mean we’ve inadvertently passed some of our not-so-great eating habits on to our kids. One morning, my husband mentioned that he’d been consciously giving the kids smaller bowls of cereal for breakfast. They seemed satisfied with the new amount and often finished their portion, rather than leaving excess to throw away. If they wanted more, he’d sprinkle enough in their bowls to appease them, without giving them an additional meal’s worth of food. It made me realize that I, on the other hand, had taken to mindlessly dumping in a bunch of cereal without giving it a second thought. Whoops.

But rather than feeling guilty about what our children may have picked up from us, we should be thankful about how much influence we have over what and how our children eat. It can encourage us to develop a healthier attitude towards our own food habits so we can help make lasting changes in our children. They might not even have to know we’re doing it.

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Are all calories created equal?

David Ludwig, MD, PhD Boston Children's Hospital

Historically, people who lose weight have a hard time keeping it off long-term. Most people believe it’s due to lack of adherence to diets or lost motivation, but recent research finds that not all calories are the same—and that following a low-glycemic diet that works with a person’s changing metabolism could help maintain weight loss.

Researchers Cara Ebbeling, PhD, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD, of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital considered that after people lost weight, the rate at which they burned calories slowed down, making it harder to maintain weight loss. The challenge was to find a diet that would work with the body’s changing metabolism and help people continue to burn calories at a rate that would help them maintain their weight loss.

“Keeping weight off—even under the best circumstances—is difficult,” says Ludwig. “But lining up biology and behavior can help.” Ludwig and Ebbeling studied the affects of three diets with the same amount of calories in each:

  • Low-fat, which is typically recommended by the U.S. government and American Heart Association, aims to reduce overall fat intake.
  • Low-carbohydrate, modeled after the Atkins diet, reduces almost all carbohydrate intake.
  • Low-glycemic, which aims to keep blood sugar levels steady by choosing natural foods and high-quality protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Even though all three diets consisted of the same amount of calories, the low-glycemic diet came out on top: Aside from helping to stabilize metabolism even after weight loss, existing research suggests that low-glycemic diets help people feel fuller longer and experience improved sense of well-being, as well as improved mental and physical performance.

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It’s no secret that most kids aren’t exactly crazy about healthy eating. Many growing taste buds prefer pizza to carrots, leaving plenty of parents and educators at a loss for how to get the children in their lives to eat better. From hip marketing campaigns to health food product placement— not too mention good, old-fashioned trickery— there are plenty of way to try to get kids to eat right, but there isn’t a sure fire method that’s proven to work.

To help parents in their quest for healthier kids, David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life program, recently spoke with Parade magazine, offering practical advice on ways parents can drive home the importance of a well balanced diet. Here’s an excerpt:

“Young children are like ducks: They do what their parents do,” says Harvard endocrinologist Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston. If you eat junk food instead of fruits and vegetables, they will too.”

A University of Tennessee study reports that mothers usually refrain from offering babies foods they themselves dislike—so if you hate fava beans, chances are that your child has never tried them. Still, says Dr. Ludwig, it’s never too late to become a good role model. Explain to children that real foods—like fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, fish and meat—come from nature. Dr. Ludwig recommends that obese children keep food diaries, recording all of the sugary drinks and factory-processed junk foods they eat in a day. They’ll be astonished at how many they consume. Kids may moan, but they’ll get hungry and learn to replace cheese puffs with low-fat cheese.

For great advice on other ways parents can make healthy eating easier, check out the entire article here.

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