Weight Trouble for Toddlers with a Sweet Tooth
Little kids become aware very quickly that they have almost no control over many things in their lives. That's why they typically try to exert their influence in any way they can, which often leads to demands about what foods they will eat and which ones they reject. And many young children will take this opportunity to try to eat as many snacks as they can throughout the day. Now, there is one more reason to put a stop to these indulgences, particularly if they are reaching for sweet treats. New research shows that the types of snacks they choose may be associated with excessive weight gain over time.
The study, which took place at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, found that toddlers who choose to eat sweet snacks rather than salty ones may face a greater risk of becoming overweight children.1 The subjects were 344 mothers with low incomes and their children. They participated when the kids were 21, 27, and 33 months old. In each trial, the mothers were told to have their kids fast for one hour, then to feed them their typical lunch.
Once they had finished their meals, the toddlers were provided a plate full of snack foods. There was an array of sweet goodies such as chocolate cookies as well as a range of salty treats such as potato chips. The scientists told the children they could consume whichever snacks they wanted and as much as they wanted, then the plate was removed after 10 minutes.
The investigators tallied each child's consumption. They noted that the kids who ate greater quantities of the snacks tended to prefer the sweet items rather than the salty offerings. They also measured the height and weight of the volunteers at each visit and determined, based on their BMI, that the participants with a sweet tooth had an elevated risk of experiencing body fat increases before they even hit three years old.
The findings offer evidence that some people may simply be hardwired to love sweet foods, which is why this preference shows up at such an early age. A predisposition to crave sweets could definitely be considered a problem, particularly if it means the child is eating lots of ice cream, cookies, cake, and sugary candies. Of course, if that's true, it's no wonder these kids would be at a higher risk for becoming overweight or obese if these foods are a part of their daily diets.
It is important to keep in mind that this trial was very small and only included a limited population of volunteers. But the results showing that our food preferences may be biologically determined correlates with those of earlier research. A 2012 study at the IRCCS in Trieste, Italy determined that taste-related genes bear quite a bit of responsibility for which foods we prefer to eat.2
So what's a parent to do if your little ones are showing a major attachment to all things sugary and sweet? The simplest strategy is to not make cakes, cookies, and the like available very often. And honestly, that's the best way to feed your entire family whether the other members have a sweet tooth or not. There are plenty of options for satisfying that craving for sweets that are much healthier than junky snack foods.
Offer your kids small amounts of dark chocolate, which has antioxidants and flavonoids to benefit health. Trail mixes with nuts and dried fruit are tasty and full of fiber and protein. Although, be careful, they're also often full of added fat and sugar. And stock up on a variety of fresh fruits, which offer natural sweetness but also lots of fiber, vitamins, and nutrients. Your children may protest at the lack of cupcakes and candies initially, but they will get used to eating healthier snacks if the other goodies aren't around.
You may not be able to control what they consume every time they leave the house, but especially when they're very young, you have the power to control what they eat at home by only keeping more nutritious foods on hand. You should use that power because much of what we're comfortable eating as we get older, genes aside, is what we became accustomed to consuming as kids. As they say, old habits are hard to break.
- 1. Asta, Katharine; et al. "Eating in the Absence of Hunger and Weight Gain in Low-income Toddlers." Pediatrics. May 2016. Accessed 27 April 2016. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/04/14/peds.2015-3786
- 2. Pirastu, N.; et al. "Genetics of food preferences: a first view from silk road populations." Journal of Food Science. December 2012. Accessed 28 April 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22888812