Today I want to look at our relationship to food, particularly snacking.
How much food should you eat as snacks?
How much of your daily energy should you consume through meals and how much should you consume through snacking? Ideally, dieticians tell us we should get 80 per cent of our energy through three regular meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. We should only get 20 per cent of our energy through snacks. In reality, most Australians get 30 to 40 percent of their energy through snacking and are eating too much! Two out of three Australian adults are overweight. Bad snacking habits usually start in childhood, and one in four 11 year olds are overweight!
I want to tell you about a recent study into Australia’s snacking habits. It was part of Australia’s Child Health Checkpoint, which I also wrote about in my last blog. The Child Health Checkpoint was a one-off health check of 1,800 Aussie children, aged 11 to 12. The study assessed the health of 1800 parent/child pairs.
The research found that big snacking parents may accidently influence their children to eat more. The researchers believe that encouraging parents to snack less could improve children’s diets. The paper, ‘Food Choices: Concordance in 11-12 year-old Australians and their parents’ has been published in the British Medical Journal Open.
According to the official media release for the study, the children and parents did 20 health tests over about three-and-a-half hours. The researchers then looked at what participants ate during a 15-minute snack break between the other health tests.
Only eat treats occasionally
One of the paper’s authors, Dr Jessica Kerr, said children and adults should only consume energy dense snacks occasionally – they do not need to be part of daily energy intake. “Extra snacking is linked to obesity,” Dr Kerr said.
For the study, the children and parents were given a snack box containing items such as crackers, cheese, a muesli bar, biscuits, a tub of peaches and chocolate. Children and parents ate separately and at different times, so children were not supervised by their parents.
Researchers then recorded how much food each child and parent left in the box uneaten, and calculated the amounts of sodium, fat and kilojoules consumed. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest study in the world assessing snack intake at a population level by measuring what people eat rather than completing a survey or a diary about food intake,” Dr Kerr said. “Some people ate nothing, while a quarter of participants ate everything in their snack box.”
Parents influence kids’ food choices
Dr Kerr said there were definite similarities between what parents ate and what children ate. “For example, a child whose parent’s snack energy (or kilojoule) intake was in the top 10 per cent ate on average 230 kJ more (equivalent to a treat-size small chocolate bar) than a child whose parent’s snack energy intake was in the bottom 10 per cent,” Dr Kerr said.
Dr Kerr said it is unclear if the similarities between child and parent snacking patterns were learned behaviours or under the influence of genetic factors such as metabolism and appetite.
“What the study shows is that targeting parent snack behaviour could also help improve their children’s diet,” she said. However, the researchers also acknowledge that snack choices are influenced by factors other than parents, such as individual preferences, the presence of peers, availability of food and advertising.
“All of these need to be targeted if we want to improve children’s eating behaviour,” Dr Kerr said. The aim of the CheckPoint is to provide health research data that will help governments, health workers and researchers come up with strategies to keep Australians healthy in the future.
Did your parents teach you bad eating habits?
My question is how much influence did your parents have on your eating patterns? Do you eat well? Do you eat junk food or chocolate to comfort yourself when sad or stressed? Who taught you to use food as a comfort or ‘crutch’? Did your bad food habits begin in childhood or when you left home?
This study into the snacking habits of 11 and 12 year olds found they were influenced by their parents and other factors like peer pressure and advertising. What influences your food choices? Do you eat badly when you are time poor? Do you end up buying junk foot? Do you eat badly when you are stressed? You can’t be bothered preparing a nutritious meal?
To lose weight, address lifestyle factors causing you to over-eat
If you need to improve your diet, I encourage you to look at the lifestyle factors connected to your diet. Ideally, you need to address these. That means if you are serious about losing weight, you may first need to reduce the stress you are under at work or home! If you want to eat healthy food, you may first have to deal with your depression. A good diet is not just about food choices, it is intrinsically connected to patterns established in childhood and current lifestyle factors.
Will children inherit their parents weight problems?
The research found that children of overweight parents are not destined to inherit their parents’ weight problems. Researcher, Dr Susan Clifford, said previous studies have found overweight parents often had children with higher levels of body fat, however, to date researchers have not been able to agree on how closely children’s growth follow their parents.
“It’s surprisingly unclear how likely children are to grow to weigh about the same as their parents. Previous studies have very different results, with the association (correlation) between child and parent Body Mass Index (BMI) ranging from very low to very high,” Dr Clifford said.
The study found only a moderate association between an 11 to 12-year-old child’s BMI and their parent’s, which was at the lower end of previous estimates.
“This modest similarity between parents and children challenges a pessimism that children will inevitably end up like their overweight parents,” Dr Clifford said. “Our research suggests that far more than family environment drives the current obesity endemic. Parents are, to some extent, nutritional gatekeepers for their children, but on the other hand, children spend a lot of time at school and with friends and in other environments not shared with their parents.”
That means that at the end of the day, you can’t blame your family (or at least not entirely) for your weight problems.
Let go of the past and own your future! If you want to lose weight, carefully look at lifestyle factors stopping your from achieving that goal. You will need to ‘fix’ these before starting any new diet! I wish you every success.
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