Why Focusing On Child Nutrition May Contribute to Childhood Obesity

Dina Rose Health Guide
  • In principal, feeding children well should be relatively easy.  In practice, though, it is never so straightforward. 


    That’s because while we’re busy evaluating the quality of the food we prepare, our children are thinking about other things like playing instead of eating, and asserting their willpower instead of complying. 


    I discovered a startling truth in my work with parents: Nutrition is the wrong paradigm for teaching kids to eat right because it only helps parents with the easy stuff—knowing what to feed our kids.  Nutrition is silent, though, when it comes to figuring out how to get our kids to eat the stuff we serve.  For that, you have to turn to habits.

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    It would be bad enough if nutrition were simply an inadequate tool. But the news is worse: Our national focus on nutrition leads parents to teach their children bad eating habits (unintentionally, of course).


    You’d be forgiven for thinking that good eating habits have to do with vegetable and calcium consumption, Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.  True, these are aspects of a healthy diet.   Good eating habits, however, boil down to three behaviors:


    ·    Proportion: Eating foods in relation to their healthy benefits.

    ·    Variety: Eating a range of foods.

    ·    Moderation: Eating only when hungry, stopping when full (and not because you’re bored, sad or lonely).


    Not only don’t most parents teach their kids these habits, nutrition-based pressure leads most parents to teach the reverse (unintentionally, of course).


    ·    We feed kids mostly mediocre foods: chicken nuggets, bagels, macaroni and cheese.  (Anti-proportion.)


    ·    We overuse the same foods: cereal every day for breakfast, PB&J every day for lunch, chicken nuggets or fish sticks for dinner. (Anti-variety.)


    ·    We ask our kids to eat more regardless of how hungry they are, and dole out the goodies to coax good eating, good behavior, and eventually…good grades. (Anti-moderation.)


    Our reasons are good: These foods pass the sniff test (they offer just enough nutrition); our kids will eat them (staving off certain death, and saving us from having yet another food battle); food can coax our kids into behaving!!


    Unfortunately, compromising our kids’ habits in the name of nutrition is a strategy designed to fail.


    Using the habits framework as the foundation for feeding your future food eater can change the feeding dynamic.


    Thinking about habits will make your life easier, streamline the number of facts you need to remember, and produce the right product (kids who eat right).


    ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


    Dina R. Rose, has a PhD in sociology from Duke University. She has over 15 years experience in teaching and research.  Just as importantly, she is also a mother.  Dina has been studying how parents teach their children to eat since her daughter was little and she offers lectures, workshops and individual coaching on this topic.  She is also the author of the popular blog It’s Not About Nutrition.com.


Published On: June 06, 2011