Junkfood Science: Starving toddlers mistaken for “healthy eating”

April 15, 2008

Starving toddlers mistaken for “healthy eating”

First, there were growing reports of school children being underfed and not getting enough calories, fats and sugars to enable them to grow well and learn, as a result of efforts to feed them ‘healthy’ foods. Now, an investigation of nursery preschools has uncovered tragic findings: nearly all nurseries are feeding toddlers so little fat and calories, and such excessive amounts of 'healthy' fiber, fruits and vegetables, that they are putting the children at risk for stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies. Mistaken beliefs about healthy eating are now endangering our youngest children.

A terribly disturbing study was released a few weeks ago by Trading Standards, which says it is responsible for enforcing the UK’s food legislation and ‘healthy eating’ agenda. The media widely portrays — and it is popularly believed — that children are eating vast amounts of fats, sugars, salts and calories and nearly no fruits and vegetables. Nutritional analyses were done on a week’s worth of meals served in every nursery preschool in East Sussex, expecting to confirm these unhealthy eating practices and support the government’s ‘healthy eating’ initiatives.

Amelia Hill of the Observer was the only reporter to write about the findings and the concerns raised in this investigative study. We’ll begin with her article.

As she notes, adult guidelines have recommended diets high in fiber, low in fat, with plenty of fruits and vegetables as the principles of healthy eating. However...

Fruit and veg diet 'danger for toddlers'

...nurseries are being told the food they serve in accordance with these guidelines is unsuitable for toddlers and could lead to vitamin deficiencies and even stunted growth. 'Nurseries are applying the principles of adult healthy eating to the food they are supplying to young children,' said Sarah Almond, a consultant specialist paediatric dietician who has analysed the results of a trading standards study into nursery food.

'We expected the study to show nurseries were serving children food that was too high in calories, fat, saturated fat and salt, and low in vegetables and fruit. Instead, we found that the majority of nurseries had gone to the other extreme and appeared to be providing food that was too low in calories, fat and saturated fat, and too high in fruit and vegetables.' This situation was putting children at the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, she said.

The research also found that four out of five nurseries were giving children portions that were too small and only three in 10 provided them with meals containing enough calories. According to Almond... pre-school children have a high energy and nutrient requirement. Because they have a small stomach and a relatively under-developed gut, they cannot consume large quantities of food at a time but need frequent small meals and snacks throughout the day. In addition, too much fibre - such as that absorbed through over-consumption of fruit and vegetables - can result in insufficient intake of other food groups and inhibit the absorption of key minerals. 'Because a significant number of children attend nurseries from 7am until 7pm, the food and nutrition they receive there are key to their health,' said Almond...

A campaign director at the Preschool Learning Alliance told the Observer that “the majority of nurseries are confused or misinformed about what entails healthy eating... over-focusing on the message about eating five portions of fruit and vegetable a day.” Most childcare workers, parents and even policy makers don’t realize that growing children have vital needs for calories, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and other nutrients.

The seriousness of the dangers for toddlers revealed in these nutritional analyses went beyond the fact that 7 out of the 10 nurseries were not even giving the toddlers enough calories to eat. Energy their bodies need from sugars. All but 2 of the nurseries were not providing even the minimal amounts of fats the children need for healthy neurological and brain development. It also appears meat and fortified cereals were mostly eliminated from the menus and all of the nurseries failed to meet basic requirements for iron, for example. Protein was similarly inadequate and only three of the nurseries even offered tuna fish or some type of fish even once a week. These findings are believed to be an accurate reflection of the national picture.

The results even troubled Councilor Bob Tidy, Lead Cabinet Member for Community Services. In a public statement he said nurseries “have to change their thinking about what constitutes healthy eating for the under fives.” They face difficulties making the needed changes, however, he said, because of “having to accommodate the demands of parents, who often have very specific viewpoints of what they will and will not allow their children to consume and their own perceptions of healthy eating which may not be appropriate for children of this age group.”

As Fiona MacRae wrote today in the Daily Mail, “in today’s health-obsessed society, parents are made to feel guilty if they do not feed their children a diet packed with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.” These are the ‘healthy’ foods that young parents are being told their toddlers “should” be eating.

These are also precisely the types of diets of concern to growing numbers of pediatric medical professionals who are seeing increasing numbers of children suffering nutritional shortfalls, failing to thrive and falling behind on growth, as a result of unsupported beliefs about healthy eating. Parents are restricting fats, sugars, salts and calories and increasing fruits and vegetables, wrongly believing they can prevent their children from becoming fat or developing heart disease and becoming junkfood dependent. Sadly, these diets do none of those things, nor are they healthy for children.

Very few parents of toddlers have probably ever heard that the National Academy of Sciences has recommended children get as much as 40% fat in their diets every day, or that high fiber, low-calorie diets don’t enable young children to get the calories they need, and high-fiber diets inhibit the absorption of many nutrients.

The intense marketing of ‘healthy’ foods to parents and daycare centers and preschools may be the most disturbing revelation of just how pervasive unsound nutrition information has become.

High-fiber drinks for toddlers

High-fiber fruit drinks are being marketed to parents — with a special discount program for daycare centers and preschools — as being “healthier drink options for young children.” Developed by food scientists at the International Food Network at Cornell, these high fiber drinks are promoted as providing “all the benefits of organic whole grains and 100% fruit juice.” They’re said to be better than juice or milk because they provide “fiber and whole grain nutrients.” The promotional material claims:

Whole grains and fiber have been clinically proven to prevent heart disease and cancers. With the obesity epidemic raging in our youth, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancers are showing up in children at younger and younger ages. Adopting nutritionally sound eating habits from the start that include the incorporation of more whole grains in the diet of children throughout the day will set them on the path for better lifelong health.

These drinks are reconstituted fruit juice, sweetened with “organic brown rice syrup” and supplemented with rice bran for fiber. There is no evidence to recommend high-fiber bran for toddlers or, as we've examined at length, that such diets in young children will prevent obesity or adult-onset chronic diseases of aging.

Calorie counting for toddlers

Or, perhaps you caught the unsettling health news on television or the syndicated article this past week promoting “Calorie Bargains for Babies, Toddlers and Children.”

Calorie counting for babies! The story featured low-calorie, ‘healthy’ foods, such as a high-fiber energy bar containing organic fruits and vegetables, brown rice syrup and grains ($14.49 for 12 bars). The news story also promoted “Itsy Bitsy Yoga” for 18 months to 5 years of age — a program of 50 yoga poses for tiny tots that the author promises will ensure “fewer tantrums, better and longer sleep, increased motor coordination, improved listening and ability to follow directions, better self-expression, higher self-esteem and easier relaxation.”

As JFS readers are well familiar, there is no evidence or any expert medical body that recommends calorie-counting diets for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, nor supports the claims made for baby yoga. The story was written by a diet book author and personal trainer who founded Integrated Wellness Solutions. According to its website, it creates online software that integrates the “latest scientific and behavioral nutritional research and... is used by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and other large corporations.”

With so much unsound information about healthy eating surrounding parents today and so many interests eager to cash in on the healthy eating movement, it’s little wonder that young parents have been swept up. But, it isn’t 'junkfood' that most threatens the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of children today. Tragically, it appears to be the so-called ‘healthy’ stuff.

Bookmark and Share