Dietary Training Can Work
> 5/21/2008 4:15:00 PM


A major determining factor in the current obesity epidemic is an unsatisfactory dietary education that encourages convenient and unhealthy eating habits. Even when kids believe that they are heeding repeated calls to eat better, they are not, as the foods they believe to be healthy are anything but. Making a conscious decision not to choose burgers, pizza or fried chicken at every opportunity seems like a move toward better health, but the alternatives are simply not much better, and physical exams do not support the claims of young people who truly believe that they are living healthier lifestyles.

Addressing this problem may require starting with the most powerful influence in the dietary equation: upbringing. A longitudinal Finnish study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation in August 2007 followed over 1,000 children from the age of 7 months to the age of 14, advising both the children and their parents on the many virtues of low-fat, lean-protein diets. At 14, the children of parents who were urged toward diets based on the healthy fats present in fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils had notably lower cholesterol levels than those of their control-group peers. Fears that restricted diets would result in lower rates of physical and neurological development proved to be unfounded


The power of positive influence that is implied by this study remains encouraging. By the time these kids are 40 or 50, the health benefits of the intervention-fueled diets will become even more obvious; lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer are likely to be observed during the middle and late stages of adulthood among those who maintained their commitment to better eating habits. The reason that the American dietary education efforts have failed is that dietary preferences have already been firmly established by the age of 7, 10 or 13. As evidence of this fact, American children who received free fruit or got rewards for eating more vegetables as part of a larger nutrition campaign were actually less likely to choose healthy produce after the program ended due to a resounding rejection based on taste alone.

The larger message on display here: teach them to eat right before it's too late - the earlier the better. If education efforts focus on parents, and mom and dad get the message, they will pass the knowledge on to their children. Early intervention may indeed lead to better dietary health among children.

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