Toddlers with a sweet vs. salty tooth more likely to gain weight

April 21, 2016 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Toddlers with a sweet vs. salty tooth more likely to gain weight

Compared to toddlers who crave salty foods, those who mindlessly snack on cookies and cake may be more likely to wind up overweight, a new study from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor suggests.

To study what's known as eating in the absence of hunger, researchers tracked how many sweet and salty snacks children ate just after finishing a full meal.

Children who ate the most sweets after the meal and threw the biggest tantrums when the treats were taken away had greater odds of gaining excess weight than kids who grazed on salty foods or didn't put up a fuss when their snack was removed.

Genetics may play a role

Biology may be to blame because none of the differences in family or household characteristics explained why only some children craved sugar.

The researchers did food experiments with about 200 children at ages 21, 27 and 33 months.

All were from low-income families receiving subsidies for health care, food and early childhood education services.

For the experiment, researchers asked the kids’ mothers to feed them a typical lunch. When they were done, researchers put down a plate with two Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, two Oreos, five frosted animal cookies, two rainbow candy blast Chips Ahoy cookies, two fudge stripe chocolate-coated cookies, 10 Pringles potato chips and 10 Frito-Lay Cheetos cheese puffs.

Kids sat with the snack plate for 10 minutes and ate whatever they liked. Then, researchers took it away, noted how children reacted to the removal, and then weighed what was left to determine exactly how much the kids ate.

Some parents may need to keep sweets out of the house

The lead research said, “depending on the child, some families may need to be more vigilant than others about keeping sweets out of the house and limiting how easily accessible they are.”

The children who consumed more total calories and more sweets at 27 months were more likely to be heavier than the average child at age 33 months, researchers reported.

Boys, older children and kids with more educated mothers were more likely to snack after the meal, the study also found.

While the study included only low-income families, the findings mirror results from other research that linked eating sweets after meals to obesity in wealthier households.

Regardless of income levels, children with unpredictable meal schedules or frequently skipped meals may eat when they’re not hungry to compensate for uncertainty about when they will eat again, say experts.

Sweets, too, are the one type of food that even picky eaters don’t fear trying.

To combat mindless snacking, parents need establish a predictable meal schedule and offer a variety of healthy foods.

“Limit, but do not overly restrict sweet foods,” the lead researchers advise. “In particular, limit sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda or juice – have them drink water or low fat milk.”

Source: Pediatrics, online April 18, 2016.

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