A new study should stop parents dead in their tracks. It suggests that kids, as young as three, will eat pretty much any treat they are given, even if they aren’t hungry.
So what’s the big deal? One of the cornerstones of weight management, and avoiding obesity, is the inherent stomach-brain connection that most young kids are supposed to have. It naturally guides them to push food away when they are full. If a kid is unable to do that, or the temptation is too strong, they will overeat.
We have been grappling with an ongoing childhood obesity crisis now for years, and it is difficult to confront some of the possible causes, especially when they concern parental behaviors. This new study highlights the health risks that kids face, since they are being bombarded with many treats, and quite often starting at a very, very young age. These treats are typically high calorie, high sugar, high fat, and high sodium. Frankly, whether it’s a homemade or store bought treat - kids are given way too many treats…period.
In the study of three and four year olds, 100 percent of the kids opted for a sweet or savory treat despite having finished a filling and healthy lunch 15-minutes prior to the offering. That means adults are pushing food on kids-unhealthy food at that-and literally corrupting their taste buds to desire these types of foods. This causes a disconnect between a feeling of fullness and the desire to continue to eat more. The study, published in the journal Eating Behaviors, confirmed that most, if not all of the 37 children, were feeling full or very full before the treat was offered. Even in that presence of hunger, all of the kids accepted and then ate the treats. That means that any ability of self-control basically flew out the window the second a treat was offered to the children.
I know most adults would also struggle (and do struggle) with this same scenario. The point is that as kids, we have a "stop mechanism" that should prevent most of us from overeating. Parents, caretakers, and the environment which provides non-stop opportunities (and justifications for treats), are corrupting that inherent mechanism. And you’re still wondering why we have a childhood obesity crisis on our hands? I’m still wondering why parents are on the defensive when suggestions are made that we are overfeeding our kids and priming them for obesity. This is not the only study or behavior observation that is out there - it’s one in a long line of warnings. We can lose our ability to self-regulate at a very young age, so why not take a first step? Let’s rethink Halloween this year.
A Happy and Healthy Halloween Guideline
Let’s have a healthier Halloween. It may be hard, but it can be the beginning of a new way to interact with food and celebrations. Make it fun. Use fruits and vegetables abundantly in recipes for the meals or snacks you plan for Halloween. If you need ideas, you can check out the unbelievable number of Pinterest options-I counted 178 -that offer creative, tasty, healthy recipes with pictures as guides. I loved Zucchini Eyeballs, Frankenstein Veggie Tray, Nature’s Candy Corn, Black Bean Spider Dip and Pumpkin Spice Seed Bars.
Make sure there’s lots of water on hand, and focus more on crafts, costumes, and tricks - the holiday does not need to be so food driven. If the kids do go out and collect candy, use a "one regular size or two or three small candy maximum" and trade them for the rest of the cache. Halloween can be magical. Kids don’t need the candy - the experience should be about the tricks, the games and activities, the costumes, and the adventure with friends. As parents, you can reset the course of the experience if you are patient, creative, and invested in making this Halloween and future celebrations more about the fun, and less about the food.
Sources: QUT Health
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”