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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Don’t eat this, not that!

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Ever notice the proliferation of magazine articles telling you what to eat instead of something else? It’s almost always one crappy food versus another somewhat less crappy (but much less desirable) food so that you’re left feeling guilty if you choose the “not that” and resentful if you choose the “eat this”. And evidently people eat this shit up because I see articles with some variation of this format pretty much weekly (and I don’t even read magazines). There’s even a whole website devoted to the premise with actual books you can buy. Yes, people will pay money to have people tell them what to eat but heaven forbid the government try to simply make it easier for them to make healthier choices.

Despite their “no-diet weight loss solution!” twitter bio, it seems to me that the “eat this, not that!” is all about restriction and food selection based purely on calories. Their website is literally a compendium of terrible trendy nutrition and fitness click-bait. You’ve got everything from “20 ways to boost your metabolism” to “how to lose weight while doing every day tasks” to the following header:

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Oh okay, that sure sounds like a “no-diet weight loss solution”. I mean, at least make the effort to not put the freaking D-word in there if “no-diet” is your shtick.

I spent sometime the other evening scrolling through their twitter feed and I’m convinced that much of what they post is sponsored content. They’ve got things like Dunkin’ Donuts vs Krispy Kreme, fat burning supplements that actually work, how to eat McDonald’s fries without damaging your body, the best and worst Subway sandwiches, almond milk is bad (no protein) but drink this brand not that brand (even though they both only have 1 gram of protein per cup), yay Starbucks (for – I kid you not – having nut “milk” options) but also boo Starbucks (for having high calorie baked goods). Alongside these there’s also lots of your standard: drink more wine, eat more coconut oil, buy these overpriced so-called paleo superfood snacks.

How about we stop shoving shame-laden food down people’s throats and instead promote healthful choices, ways to get people in the kitchen, and the pleasure of eating.


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National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast and other unnecessary food holidays

Last week someone shared this tweet from the Cleveland Clinic:

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Not ideal from a provider of healthcare. I’m sure many children are getting more sugar from breakfast cereal and juice in the morning but that doesn’t excuse the fact that ice cream is not a balanced breakfast and the Cleveland Clinic should know better.

That got me to thinking about food holidays. It seems to me that most of these holidays promote unhealthy foods, foods that really need no promotion. I decided to do a little number crunching.

Based on the food holidays listed on Foodimentary, I added up all of the food holidays, all of the holidays promoting unhealthy choices, and all of the holidays promoting healthy foods. Out of 475 food holidays, 250 were for unhealthy foods (e.g. candy, doughnuts), and 81 were for healthy foods (e.g. kale, almonds). Do we really need all of these days devoted to promoting treats? How about we start a new calendar of food holidays promoting a different whole food every day? We don’t need to encourage anyone to eat ice cream, especially not for breakfast.