Food Police Not the Answer

There is an interesting article in today's New York Times, which essentially decries all the worrying about what our kids eat in schools. It openly vilifies the banning of cupcakes, and the inclusion of BMI scores on reports. Harriet Brown writes:

In Arkansas, for instance, children's report cards now include their B.M.I., or body mass index, along with their grades. The governor, Mike Huckabee recently lost more than 100 pounds and is passionate about stopping the "obesity epidemic." Maryland is considering a similar standard.

Never mind that B.M.I. is only a measure of height against weight and does not take into account muscle mass, body type or other factors. (Tom Cruise has a B.M.I. of 31, which puts him in the "obese" category.)

"You're setting kids up to feel bad about how they are," says Dr. Nancy Krebs, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

Such efforts usually fail, making weight problems and eating disorders worse. A recent Internet discussion board among families with anorexic and bulimic children identified middle school health classes, which focus on weight, as the No. 1 trigger for their teenagers' disorders.

As much as Dr. Fuhrman is in favor of kids eating healthy food, in his book he makes clear that he is not at all in favor of making an environment where adults and children chastise each other for their food choices. By declaring war on certain foods, and yet having them readily available to students, our schools create a paradox, and it's not outlandish to think kids could be anxious and confused as a result. The last thing we need is a country full of stressed-out, secret bingers.

Dr. Fuhrman prefers to create a home environment that is loaded with delicious, healthy food, and essentially letting children eat whatever they want, with parents as role models in eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Listen to his podcast on getting kids to eat well, and you'll hear that outside the home, he advises parents not to be overly meddlesome.

Consider this excerpt from Disease Proof Your Child:

It is not necessary to coax them to eat or to eat healthfully. In fact, battling about food with your child is counterproductive. The trick here is to adhere to this one most important rule: only permit healthy food in your home. Children will eat whatever is available. They will not starve themselves to death; they will adapt easily and learn relatively quickly to like the food that is offered.

Here are some tips from the book to help:

  • Stock your home with a variety of produce—especially fresh fruits, raw vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds.
  • Replace most foods of animal origin with foods of plant origin: bean burgers, vegetable/bean soups, and fruit-centered deserts. If using animal products, use only white-meat poultry and eggs a few times weekly and other animal products more infrequently.
  • Make breakfast dishes, desserts, and sauces with raw nuts and seeds.
  • Limit sweets and remove sugar, salt, and white flour from the home and all products with these ingredients.
  • If eating dairy foods, select no-fat varieties such as fat-free milk. Reduce diary consumption in general. Instead use nut milks, fortified soy milks, and orange juice, fortified with vitamin D. Cheese should not be kept in the home.
  • As a time saver, use a very large pot to make vegetable soups with beans so that the same soup can be used for two days.
  • Serve a cooked vegetable main dish every night.
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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
anet - May 30, 2006 11:21 PM

Poor nutrition has a long list of causally related diseases. The expense of these diseases are huge and cost society, ALL of us.
I don't think depending on a individual approach is going to be enough to stem the tide of the negative influence that its going to have.

Linda - May 31, 2006 12:27 PM

I agree that filling the home with nutritious food is the way to go. If your home has nothing but whole foods in it and fruits are seen as treats, then this becomes the child's norm. Obviously, as he/she grows they will be exposed to junk, but forming a healthy base is the best insurance! This is what I would do if I had children. I wish I had been reared in a whole-foods home!

anet - May 31, 2006 8:02 PM

Depending upon a misinformed public to produce a generation of "parents as role models in eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables" isn't going to happen soon enough to stem the huge oncoming tide of health problems and their concomitant cost to society (as well as great personal cost).
Furhman's done his part, created the best referenced book I have ever read on practical nutrition. But he is basically speaking to those that WANT to learn, those that buy the book.
I think there must be governmental intervention to educate the young-- leaving the public education of us up to the highest bidder-- ag and food industry --is detrimental to our the health of us, our children, and our economy.

Shinga - June 18, 2006 12:05 PM

In the UK there is currently a proposal to ban junk-food ads on TV before the watershed of 9pm. During a TV discussion, in the space of 3 minutes, this was characterised as "Nanny-State".

The people arguing for this ban are not stalking-horse neo-prohibitionists, they are proposing such an extreme measure as a response to a hugely expensive, hugely damaging public-health problem. I would like the people who accuse them of being part of a Nanny-State to tell us why it is acceptable to expose children to TV advertising that normalises the consumption of calorie-dense, nutritionally-empty foods - what sort of state is that - The-Cute-Little-Bad-Angel-On-Your-Shoulder-State or The-Permissive-Advertising-Harms-Your-Health-But-That's-Your-Decision-State? Do I think this ban would be helpful as a stand-alone measure? No - but I haven't seen the data from Sweden (?) where they do have a comparable ban.

That was a little rant-y. There are obvious freedom of speech problems to be faced with such a ban (another reason that I don't like the idea). However, in years of discussions with the various food industries, we seem to have made very little progress. How much more education is needed - how does it get to the people who need it most? Particularly when recent experience of early intervention programmes in the UK indicates that the results can be counter-productive?

Regards - Shinga

UNKNOWN - July 22, 2006 9:02 PM

junk food commercials do not give out a message saying that healthy food is not

very good and junk food is the way to go, it is just promoting a certain product. We believe junk

food ads does not affect people because there is nothing wrong about promoting junk food but

eating junk food yourself and your health is another story. So when are people going to take at

least a look for their actions? Bringing up "bans" on almost everything that we come up against

in daily life is non-productive. Educate people how and when to exercise is way more effective.

People can't help themself buying something new when a new junk food ad appear on TV, it is

pretty obvious that the main cause for this are children's poor eating habits. Perhaps a ban on

laziness might be a good starting point.

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