‘How’ more important than ‘What’ kids eat

Picky eating, a mealtime disorder linked to undernourishment and other health problems, is quite common in preschoolers. On the flip side, poor and excessive eating and other bad mealtime habits bestow there own share of ill effects on health.

According to the findings of a new study, preschoolers who not only indulge in excessive eating but also exhibit bad mealtime habits are at higher risk of future risk of heart disease.

The study, appearing online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggested that it’s not only what that the child eats but also how he or she eats her meals that can be telltale signs of future risk of heart disease.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers looked at 1,076 preschool children aged between 3 and 5. The participants were recruited from seven primary care units located in Toronto between 2008 and 2011.

Parents were required to fill out questionnaires not only detailing the dietary intake of their child but also their mealtime habits like eating in front of television or computer.

Other data including height, weight and kids’ activity levels and blood samples were also collected.
After controlling all other factors, researchers compared eating habits and serum levels of non–high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, key markers of future heart disease, for all kids.

Researchers found that kids who had unhealthy eating behaviors were more likely to have higher cholesterol levels than their counterparts.

“We found a closer relationship in this age group between eating behaviors and cholesterol levels than between the actual intake that was reported. It didn’t matter what they were eating, it was more how they were eating,” said Dr. Navindra Persaud a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and the lead researcher for the study.

“The trouble with watching television while eating”, said Persaud “is that people pay less attention to the cues that tell them when they’ve had enough. They also eat less variety.”

“If they’re eating in front of the TV they’re just kind of shoveling it in their mouth” he averred.

In addition, drinking sugar sweetened drinks and snacking in between meals are other bad habits that can ruin mealtimes, he says. These early year habits tend to continue for lifetime.

“What we’re really trying to do is promote healthy behaviors in young children that prevent things like heart attacks or strokes later on,” Persaud said. “Our results support previous arguments for interventions aimed at improving the eating behaviors of preschool-aged children. To do so, evidence suggests promoting responsive feeding, where adults provide appropriate access to healthy foods and children use internal cues (not parent-directed cues or cues from the television) to determine the timing, pace and amount they consume.”