Parents must understand the basic nutritional facts to keep their kids healthy, because the overall intake of calories often determines if your kids will become obese.
"Many accusations today rely on speculation that tries to link single ingredients, including sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, to obesity," said Dr. James M. Rippe, cardiologist and biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida. "Americans are eating more of everything - it's the excess calories and sedentary lifestyle that are having the greatest impact."
AdvertisementHealthy Eating Top of Mind, But Focus Often Misplaced
The survey asked 400 mothers from across the country what their biggest nutrition concerns were for their children as they return to school. When asked what they are concerned with when buying food for their children, half responded with sugar (50%), trans fat (50%) and high fructose corn syrup (49%), while only one quarter cited the caloric content of food.
However, having their children eat healthy is also a top priority for parents. The majority of those surveyed (64%) have concerns about their children's health and nutrition as they return to school, despite the fact that nearly 7 in 10 moms (68%) indicate their children's schools have wellness policies. Concerns included that their children won't eat healthful foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products (20%) and that they will choose junk food when not being supervised or provided with specific food choices (18%).
Single Ingredients Don't Make Kids Overweight or Obese
"No single food or ingredient is the cause of obesity or overweight children," said Dr. Rippe. "Eating too many calories and getting too little exercise causes it."
Excessive calories - from whatever source - can promote weight gain in children and adults alike. Sweet foods are meant to be enjoyed in moderation, Rippe added. The caloric density of high fructose corn syrup is relatively low—only 4 calories per gram, compared to 9 calories per gram for fats.
Research confirms that there is no difference between how our bodies metabolize high fructose corn syrup versus products such as table sugar or honey. Further, high fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients. The American Medical Association concluded in June 2008 that "high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners."
Consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been dropping in recent years, yet the rates of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. continue to rise, Rippe added. "And in many other parts of the world, obesity and diabetes are on the rise despite having little or no high fructose corn syrup."
What Can Moms Do?
A father of four daughters and a practicing physician, Dr. Rippe is uniquely experienced with the challenges of fostering healthy habits among children. He notes:
• Good nutrition is important year-round, so that kids get the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. But it's especially important to keep in mind as students go back to school because research shows that good nutrition leads to better academic performance and improved behavior.
• Momentum is building for multi-level approaches to health promotion, which means there will be more emphasis on working with schools to improve child health.
• A sugar is a sugar, whether it comes from honey, high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, or fruit juices. Nutritionally they're all the same. Moderation is the key.
• Kids should be encouraged to eat breakfast regularly. Even if time is short, nutritious, on-the-go foods like cereal bars and fruit or milk, are good options.
• Parents and teachers are important role models for their kids when it comes to healthy habits.
• Parents and teachers usually control when kids eat, but the kids themselves usually determine how much they eat.
• Physical activity is vital. Programs that encourage movement are getting more attention. There is growing interest in "walk to school" programs.