A new study from researchers at Louisiana State University suggests that kids who eat sweets are less likely to be obese than kids who avoid eating them.
Well, this is how the reports are telling the tale. I prefer to say: “A new study from researchers at Louisiana State University suggests that kids who feel free to eat sweets are less likely to overeat in general.” I say this because eating habits, not body fat, are what we’re really talking about here.
The study, which followed 11,000 kids ages 2 to 18 over five years, found that the kids who ate sweets were 22 percent less likely to have eating patterns that led them to gain weight. The difference was more dramatic among teens, where those who ate sweets were 26 per cent less likely to overeat than those who didn’t indulge.
Besides being less likely to overeat, the sweet-eating kids also had lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, indicating a reduced chance of inflammation in the body, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
This study along with many others suggesting restricting access to particular foods increases rather than decreases preference. (*1) Just like forcing a child to eat a food will decrease the liking for that food so trying to over control your child’s urges to eat sweets (or any type of food) will mean they’re more likely to eat even more of them when you’re not there.
Now I’m not suggesting you should start pumping your kids full of Curly Wurlys, all I’m asking you to think about is how restricting any type of food at a time when natural eating regulation and self reliance should be becoming established might disrupt your child’s ability to control eating.
Evidence suggests that children do prefer sweet and salty tastes but they naturally respond to high energy foods and even hough intake at individual meals is erratic, if left to their own choices, 24-hour energy intake is relatively well regulated. (*2)
This could make all the difference and how you deal with your child’s food regulation right from birth will make a difference to whether he or she grows up with or without disordered eating patterns leading to conditions ranging from anorexia to binge eating disorder.
Research shows that by making foods unavailable they become more attractive. A good illustration of why the sweet eating kids might be better able to regulate their food was displayed in the BBC programme The Truth About Food a couple of years ago. The BBC took a classroom of four and five year olds and examined their reaction to restricted treats over a week.
They used two foods that all the children were nonplussed about – they tested them with a range of dried fruit snacks and mangos and raisins and the kids, predictably, were equally indifferent to the snacks. So every day, at snack time, they put the two bowls of snacks side by side and told the children that on the first whistle they had 15 minutes of unrestricted access to the mango. At the second whistle they had only five minutes of snack time to eat the raisins.
They watched the children day by day as the mango fell out of favour and the kids began craving raisins. To begin with the children snacked voraciously on the mango but were more excited when it was raisin time. By the end of the week there was a stampede to reach the forbidden fruit, and the mango was looking less and less attractive.
The same kids who were indifferent to both snacks at the beginning of the week couldn’t get enough of the raisins by the end.
So, by restricting snacks and sweets you may have the adverse effect of making your children desire them even more and this craving or desire that is then mixed with guilt and shame, usually connected to body weight, is the first stage into the child losing inborn natural food regulation and the start of a life of compulsive overeating or undereating.