An article appeared last week in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine that I find distressing. The authors of the article sifted through the NHANES III data comparing the eating habits of families with no children to those of families with at children (at least one child 17 years old or younger living in the home). The object of the project was to determine if the fat intake (total and saturated) were different between households with children and those without.
The results indicate that adults who live with children eat on average – hold on to your seat for this one – 4.9 grams of fat more per day than those who don’t live with children. And then, horror of horrors, adults living with children consume a whopping 1.7 grams more saturated fat than those sans kids. Not exaclty what you would call an earthshattering difference.
Despite my making light of the fact that the nimrods who did this study focused only on total and saturated fat, they did dig up some good information. Too bad they focused solely on the fat instead of (or even along with) the carbohydrate content of the diet; they had the data, they had the computer programs, it would have been easy to troll for carbohydrate intake differences as well. I thought at first that I could extrapolate from the data and back into the carb figures, but, alas, they didn’t provide all the information I need.
The good information is buried in the details. As the researchers rooted through the data they “examined some high-fat food choices.”
Adults with children ate many high-fat foods more frequently than adults without children in the home, including salty snacks, pizza, cheese, beef [later in the paper described as hamburger], ice cream, cakes and cookies, bacon/sausage/processed meats and peanuts.
You can find free full text of the article here. take a look at Table 3 showing the ‘high-fat’ foods that these families consume.
Now, aside from the cheese (based on what I see children eating, I would imagine these are cheese sticks and other what I would call artificial cheeses), the burger patty and the bacon what do all these things have in common? They are high in carbs. (They’re probably high in trans fats as well. Trans fats were not evaluated in this study.) The listing of foods in Table 3 and in their discussion are what the authors consider high-fat foods, so we don’t even have a listing for juices, sodas, candies, and other all-carb treats that we all know children love to eat. If you throw all these together, you can see that kids eat a whole lot of carbs, and their parents probably do too because those foods are at hand.
The most troubling part of this paper the reference to consumer studies:
In addition, consumer studies have shown that “parents are 2 to 3 times more likely to name their child, not themselves, as the family expert for selection of fast food, snack foods, restaurants and new breakfast cereals” and that almost “50% of parents believe that meal and grocery choices and restaurant selection are influenced by their children.” Parents with children are likely to be susceptible in their food choices to both the marketing of convenience in food choices as well as indirectly to the marketing directed at their children.
Those of us who now have or have had children in the house know the pernicious influence of television advertising. I’m sure these marketers have known long before this paper was published that kids, not their parents, made many of the buying choices involving breakfast cereals and snack foods. That’s why they are promoted so heavily during children’s shows.
The progression is thus: marketers influence the kid, the kid influences the adult, the adult buys the junk for the kid, but then the adult eats it too. If we look at this same chain of events from a metabolic perspective it goes like this: Marketers influence kid, kid influences adult, adult buys junk, kid eats junk, kid starts the destructive process in his (or her) own metabolism, the kid may or may not get fat depending upon the degree of metabolic assault, adult (who already has a damaged metabolism from these same forces during the adult’s childhood) knoshes on the junk, adult gets fat.
Marketers working through the agency of children make the parents fat. So beware these tiny tots with their eyes all aglow with the latest ads for junk food. It could end up on your waistline.
Are your children making you fat?