Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Should we allow advertisers to have unlimited access to children?

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As in many countries, including Canada, there is currently a push in the UK for a ban on “junk food” advertising to children. Naturally, there’s push-back but surprisingly not (just) from the food industry but from registered dietitians. I have to admit, I was pretty taken aback when I saw a number of Bristish dietitians arguing against this proposed ban on twitter last week. I know that we don’t always agree, but I thought that this would be one measure that all dietitians would support.

The arguments I saw against the ban were as follows:

  1. This won’t make much of a difference
  2. The term “junk food” is unscientific
  3. Only people who work in advertising should be allowed to have an opinion on advertising
  4. Parents should just “say no” to their children when they beg for products they’ve seen advertised
  5. Parents should do a better job parenting and control the tv their children are watching
  6. There are bigger issues than this so why are we wasting our time on support for an advertising ban
  7. This campaign is just about making Jamie Oliver look good

Let’s address these shall we?

  1. There is no one measure we can implement that will make a substantial change in childhood obesity and healthy eating. However, a ban such as this is just one of many measures that, together, will improve the eating habits of children. See last week’s post for a few other ideas. There is evidence to support restricting marketing of food (and other products) to children. If marketing to children wasn’t effective companies wouldn’t continue to do it.
  2. I agree that marketing to children should not apply to “junk food”. I think that a complete ban on advertising food should be implemented. This would avoid the whole distraction and difficulty of defining “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods and protect children from the promotion of food which encourages overeating and the development of unhealthy relationships with food.
  3. Do I even need to comment on this one? Does anyone outside of industry truly believe that industry self-regulation is a good idea? Yes, let’s put the fox in charge of the hen house. What could possibly go wrong?

4. Most parents I know would be much happier not to have to constantly have to say no to their children. Banning marketing of food to children would help parents to do their job. It would make it just that little bit easier.

5. Excuse me, your privilege is showing. Must be nice to be a parent who has complete control over every bit of advertising your child is exposed to and who prefers to “just say no” to your child when they’re pitching a fit in the grocery store.

6. Sure, there are lots of serious issues facing society and children today. That doesn’t mean that we can only address food insecurity at the expense of all other issues. Similar to number 1, we can address many issues simultaneously, and banning advertising to children really doesn’t have any downside (unless you’re feeling sorry for cereal and pop manufacturers).

7. Y’all know JO drives me as batty as the next person but I’m not inclined to cut off my nose to spite my face. I’m happy to put aside my disdain for Jamie in support of ending marketing to children.

For more information on Marketing to Kids, and to support Bill S-228 in Canada, check out Stop Marketing to Kids.

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Kid-friendly foods aren’t doing kids any favours

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Not being a parent I hadn’t realized the excess of unhealthy recipes on the Internet promoted as “kid-friendly”. That is, until last week when I was searching for recipes to update the selection we offer at our children’s cooking classes at work.

I was searching for “kid-friendly recipes” and “kids cooking” and similar terms thinking that the results would quickly yield some new promising recipes to try. Boy was I wrong. Nearly every recipe was either unhealthy or a bizarre offering for a child. For example, a slide show of recipes would go from donut hole kebabs and “spider burgers” (umm… ew) to “semolina and sun-dried tomato waffle pizzas” or banana split bites and any number of variations of chicken fingers to “pappardelle with leeks and corn”.

Most of the recipes were intended to appeal to children, not so much to involve them in the kitchen, unfortunately. Even more unfortunate was the fact that most of the recipes were high in sugar, salt, or fat (or some combination thereof). Pappardelle and sun-dried tomato pizza notwithstanding, I don’t think we often give kids enough credit as adults. Just as I’ve discussed before, when it comes to kids menus and family cookbooks, the assumption seems to be that children innately dislike anything nutritious (or they need to follow our personal dietary beliefs despite the potential inadequacy of nutrition and promotion of future disordered eating, but I digress). For the most part, kid friendly recipes seem to comprise one of two categories: completely lacking (or minimally containing) vegetables or fruit or vegetables or fruit made to look like adorable animals or something else. Fruit animals are fine and all, although I would hate to be the parent who had to spend ages styling my child’s food every day to get them to eat something green. The real issue here is that most of the offerings were not nutritious balanced meals. Most of them consisted of only two food groups: meat (no alternatives) and grains. Oh, and fries which I refuse to count as a vegetable, sorry. I think that most people agree that nutrition is important for children’s growth, development, and health. And yet, there seems to be some cognitive dissonance because even as people are saying this, they’re sitting their children down to a meal of chicken fingers and fries.

We adults need to stop assuming that children won’t like foods that are nutritious and assuming that there are “kid foods” and “adult foods”. Presenting these unhealthy options as “kid-friendly” and not exposing children to a variety of foods simply results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If children are never given the chance to try new foods, they will never learn to like them. Give kids a chance.


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If children are the future we may be in trouble

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After coming across a few teacher resources I’ve started to wonder about what lessons we’re really teaching children in schools.

The first example was actually a list of nutrition curriculum supports for teachers compiled by dietitians. Most of them were great but a few that really stood out to me were ones produced by companies whose m.o. is to sell products, not to educate. I found it concerning that nutrition professionals would consider promoting self-esteem resources from Dove and videos about farming from companies like Kashi to students would be appropriate. Considering the clear lack of media literacy and nutrition literacy in our society, I think it’s vital that as nutrition professionals we do our utmost to promote credible, unbiased (or at least as unbiased as possible) sources of nutrition information to the public and particularly to children and youth.

So, there was that. Then I came across a (US-based) website of “food resources” for teachers with a number of activities featuring candy to teach kids lessons about various subjects such as math and science. For example, we have: gummy bear genetics, gummy worm measurements, the history of marshmallows, math with candies, and chocolate and solvents. Why exactly do we need to use sugary treats to teach children in school? Is this the norm? Is the prevailing perception that children need to be bribed to learn anything in school?

There’s lesson plans on the website including things like “Juice Nutrition 101” which one might reasonably assume would be about the pros and cons of juice. If so, you would be incorrect. It’s actually only about the alleged benefits of juice and was (get this) used with permission from Ocean Spray Cranberries, inc. I shit you not.

What kind of lessons do these sorts of things actually teach children? Not critical thinking, I’m sure. Nor do they teach children accurate unbiased nutrition information. They also normalize and encourage the regular consumption of candy and treats that should really be “sometimes” foods. We need to have more dietitians involved with the development of educational resources. We need to ensure that teachers are nutrition and media literate so that they don’t use resources such as those mentioned above in their classrooms. If children are the future we need to do better at equipping them with the skills to navigate and emerge from this “post truth” era.


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It ain’t easy feeding greens

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Last week this article: Don’t Make Children Eat Their Greens caught my eye, mainly because of the headline. Great dietitian click-bait Guardian ;)

The article is actually much better than the headline makes it appear but I still have to throw my two-cents into the ring. As the author concedes (near the end of the article and prior to launching into his own advice) he is not a dietitian. It reminded me of a photo I’d seen on Instagram recently. It was a page from a book with a quote along the lines of “Not everyone who eats imagines themselves to be a dietitian”. Which I’m sure will amuse my fellow RDs because, in my experience, nearly everyone who eats does fancy themselves to be dietitians. While lived experience can certainly be valuable, it’s not exactly the gold standard of scientific evidence. I appreciate that the author incorporated viewpoints from professionals, such as a dietitian and psychologist, but I actually found some of the comments he included from them to be a little odd.

According to the RD source for the article, “The human body is very clever and can adapt over generations. It can use what resources it has available”. Which is all well and fine but really has no bearing on feeding children in the here and now. Adapting over generations is not the same as adapting over one’s own lifespan. I can personally decide that I’m going to forego certain essential nutrients and expect that my body will just adapt. Without a source of vitamin C, for example, I would invariably eventually develop scurvy.

The other issue I take with the article comes from a seemingly throw-away comment. The author’s (adult) daughter says that she refused to eat peas (and other green vegetables) growing up because “they don’t taste good”. To which the author writes “They don’t”. And this is an issue that the author misses in much of his advice. That issue is role modelling behaviour. Children learn by watching and if they are watching parents who don’t eat or show displeasure with certain foods they’re quite likely to adopt similar attitudes themselves. I can’t help but wonder, if the author’s attitude was more positive toward peas if his daughter might have developed a more favourable attitude toward them as well.

Much of the other advice in the article is spot-on based on current recommendations. Food should not be used as a reward or punishment, mealtimes should not become battlegrounds, caregivers should respect children’s appetites. It’s unfortunate that the headline gives the impression that vegetables are an unnecessary part of a healthy diet. While I’m sure that many meatetarians would be overjoyed with this stance, it’s not really the point of the article, nor is it the correct message. While not nearly as catchy of click-baity, a more accurate headline would be something like “Give Your Children Nutritious Meals and Snacks and Allow Them to Decide How Much to Eat”.


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Grocery Store Lessons: Mott’s Fruitsations Rolls

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It’s has recently come to my attention that some moms are blithely sending their kids to school with these new “fruit roll-ups” as the result of a mistaken belief that they are “healthy”.

Before I start dissecting these “fruit” snacks, let me first get this out of the way: healthy eating is complicated. Food is not “bad” or “good”; it has no moral value. And no one food is going to make or break a nutritious balanced diet.

Now that, that’s done, let’s take a closer look at these “healthy” fruit roll-ups, shall we? Ingredient #1: Pear puree. Ingredient #1 in “traditional” fruit roll-ups?: Apple puree. For those who are not aware, ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least. Therefore, the first ingredient in a product is going to be the ingredient that’s present in the greatest quantity. Ingredient #2 in the Mott’s fruit rolls: sugar and/or golden sugar. Ingredient #2 in your “traditional” fruit roll-up: corn syrup. The lists go on from there in a similar fashion. See for yourself:

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It’s difficult to compare the nutrition information for the two products as the serving size for the Mott’s product is 21 grams while the serving size for the classic fruit roll-up is 14 grams. However, (spoiler alert) they are both essentially sugar. Actually, in a surprise twist, the “traditional” fruit roll-up is actually slightly more nutritious than the new “healthy” Mott’s version. It’s has about two grams less of sugar per 7 gram serving and has 2 grams of fibre, whereas the Mott’s roll has no fibre. For further comparisons, again, see for yourself:

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The moral of the story here is not that Fruit Roll-Ups are a nutritious snack. They are not comparable to whole fruit. They are still just sticky concentrated sugar, ideal for literally rotting kids teeth. It’s that food companies are fantastic at marketing and convincing us that their products are far better for us (and our children in many cases) are better for us than they truly are. What can you do to arm yourself against their clever marketing tactics? Increase your food literacy. Learn how to read nutrition facts labels, and check ingredient lists.