January 9

Are your children making you fat?

14  comments

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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.


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  1. Please, please, please tell me that boy (on the right) in the photo is wearing a Hollywood “fat” suit!
    We went to an airshow this fall and I saw entire families like this, waddling in a row, all toting huge boxes of fries, nachos, and giant sodas. I didn’t see one “huge” family choosing the bbq meats, turkey legs, or greek salads offerings.
    An article about this study made it to my newspaper’s “health” section this morning, too (my husband is used to my rants as I read that section every Tuesday in some sort of perverse masochistic ritual – most of the “health” content is drivel, if not downright backwards. I should just skip that section but I never do.)
    The study authors should have included the peer pressure from other parents, too. I am regularly told by other parents that if I don’t let my kid eat a certain amount of sugar and junk, then he will crave it and go nuts for it when he gets older. My mother heard the same thing 35-40 years ago. There may be some truth to that (I rebelled against healthy food for a while), but one could use the same argument for sex, drugs, rock & roll, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. I think I’ll take the risk and limit the junk food.
    Cheers,
    Anna
    Hi Anna–
    You make a good point about obese people eating junk food.  I occupy myself when I go to the grocery store with MD by looking at everyone else’s shopping baskets and comparing the contents to what the pusher of the basket looks like.  Almost uniformly obese people have their carts full of junk.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  2. Having no kids makes it easier to eat healthy. I do all the shopping and buy only low-carb foods. If I wanted to binge, the worst I could do with the food in the house is the low-carb junk food on hand.
    Hi Victoria–
    That’s the way we try to keep it around here, too.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  3. As far as I’m concerned, when I see children in the condition of those in the photo, I think their parents should be charged with child abuse! That ain’t no baby fat. Those kids are going to suffer from their parents lack of (concern, discipline,caring, ability to just say “No”, etc. You fill in the blank) for the rest of their lives. It’s a sad commentary.
    Hi Cathy–
    A sad commentary, indeed.  You might as well get used to it, because if things continue on the same trajectory kids like those pictured will become the norm in not too many years.
    Best–
    Mike 

  4. Go easy folks. Just because the kids are big, there could be others reasons.
    I was obese as a child, but that was induced by Doctors (prednisone). Okay you would want to lock my parents up, what about the doctors?
    Heck lets lock up my Weight Watchers leader for pushing the low fat high carb diet on to me!
    (I was serious about that last one!)
    The sad reality of children dictating food choices is because of our industrialist, capitalist society. Both parents have to work, no time for cooking, no time for arguing with the brats. The brats are hooked on junk (like a drug) and they are bombarded with negative re-enforcement from television, peers and the idiots in our society.
    No easy answers, but most of these parents are clueless about Low Carb, and the Media Machine wants to keep it that way.
    It’s the carbs that are doing this, not that lack of morals!
    Hi Low Carb Dave–
    I agree. It is the carbs. And don’t get me started on locking people up or nine tenths of the nutritional ‘scientists’ would be behind bars.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  5. I saw this study a few days ago too and had to laugh at their “high fat” choices…pizza? ice cream? There’s more than alot of fat in those. And like Anna, I too read my local paper’s “health and fitness” section and shake my head. I’ve sent a few articles the way of the editors, but they aren’t interested in real information, only in what fits current dogma. I really love their “low fat cooking” section. The best recipe was where they extolled the virtues of Angel Food Cake because it is fat-free.
    Hi Scott–
    “extolled the virtues of Angel Food Cake because it is fat-free.”  Unbelievable, but, all too sadly, true.
    I once saw a Q&A in one of those papers where a person writing in asked what she could do to make a meal she was preparing for her bridge club more healthful.  She described the menu, which was sliced flank steak on a bed of spinach with some grilled asparagus and tomatoes.  The dolt who wrote the column and gave the answer told the questioner that her meal calculated out to be 47% fat with the meat and the salad dressing she was using.  She told her to use low-fat or no-fat dressing and to ADD a potato and a dinner roll.  If she would make those changes that would get the fat content down to a healthful 30%.  Incredible!  Adding pure carb to get the fat percentage down will certainly make a meal more healthful, at least in the minds of idiots like that one.  And we wonder why obesity and diabetes are skyrocketing.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  6. Oh that amazes me – they’re calling those fat consumption figures “significantly higher” than for those without children.
    Consuming 4.9 g more fat on a daily basis would amount to a whopping 44.1 extra calories per day. IF you did that every day of the year, and IF you didn’t manage to run that many calories off chasing after the little darlings, it would still only amount to a 4-1/2 lb weight gain in the course of a year.
    Since most of the fat would have been connected to starches and sugars (cake, cookies, fries, mac’n’cheese, buns on the hot dogs and burgers, etc), I can only imagine how many additional carbs they would have consumed on a daily basis – 150 g? 200? More?
    Oh yeah, I completely forgot – it’s not the hundreds of grams of carbs in your diet that make you fat, it’s the measly 44.1 calories of extra fat you consumed! How could we be so blind?!
    Hi Calianna–
    They’ll be blind until the scales finally fall from their eyes.  Who knows how long that will take. 
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  7. Cathy, What about the parent who pushes so hard for their children to be thin that the children end up with eating disorders? Where does your line of thinking end, and who makes the rules for what’s good and bad? How do we know there isn’t a medical issue behind that child’s weight? Some of my family members would probably consider locking up the parents of an extremely skinny child so you might be careful what you wish for.
    Hi hap–
    I don’t think parents should push hard for their children to be skinny.  If parents control the food at home, provide wholesome non-junk food meals, and ration treats, most kids will be normal weight.  It’s when the kids have a full time diet of junk food–and, sadly, all too many do–that they get fat.
    When our kids were living at home, we ate good food and had very little junk.  Unbelievable as this may sound, some parents packed goody bags for their kids when they came to our house to hang out with our kids because their kids whined that we didn’t ave anything they liked to eat at our house.
    I know our kids ate junk food when they got cars and got mobile, but we didn’t have it in the house.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  8. Introducing children to carbs starts early. When babies are introduced to food, what do they start on? Baby cereal. When parents start on the baby food jars, babies tend to like the fruits better than the meats or vegetables, so they move on from cereal to little jars of bananas and peaches, etc. Moving on to toddlers, how many times do you see a parent handing the kid a bag of cheerios when he gets fussy? And since parents have been informed by all the experts that grains form the basis for a healthy diet, and fruits are great too, they are doing a good thing for their kids by feeding them these things. Add to that that little kids are extremely finicky eaters, and you feel successful feeding them if you can find anything at all they will eat, you are likely to give in when they refuse to eat their vegetables and chicken leg and open up a can of spaghetti-o’s just to get them to eat something. In the world we live in, the poor nutritional choices are so prevalent and the marketing so invasive and the government propaganda so supportive of the food and agribusiness industries, it takes a very nutritiionally well educated and firmly determined parent to never allow all the processed foods and sugary snacks into the home and to never let their child near a McDonald’s. Children can’t eat all the junk they do if they don’t know it exists and their parents don’t buy it for them, but good luck keeping them away from it all. To keep kids away from this kind of food you have to cook your own food at home, and how many families have a parent who regularly does that any more? And unless you home school, the garbage that schools offer for lunch will introduce your kids to the wonderful world of the standard American diet if they escaped it during their pre-school years, and they will likely choose the school lunch over what you send with them because it’s what all their friends are eating.
    And kids have an amazing preference for the junk versions of food over the real thing. Once they know what the manufactured versions of food are like, they don’t want homemade versions of the same. “Mom, your vegetable soup doesn’t taste like my alphabet soup. Why doesn’t your homemade bread taste like the stuff from the store? I don’t want to go that restaurant, I want McDonald’s. Your mashed potatoes have lumps in them, the KFC ones taste better.”
    I face this problem now whenever my grandchildren visit a few times a year from out of state. My daughter doesn’t cook, so just about everything her children eat comes out of a box, wrapper, or can, or from a restaurant, including fast foods ones, so what do I feed the children when they come to visit me and they think pizza rolls and pop tarts are what one eats for dinner and that canned chicken noodle soup or ramen noodles are the only kind of soups there are? The best I can do is to shop for the few vegetables, fruits, meats and nuts they will eat and make it clear there are no sweets or snack foods in my home to beg for as alternatives.
    I watch my daughter and son-in-law introducing their little boy who is nearly two to food, and they feed him what he likes, not what he ought to have. French fries, instant mashed potatoes, crackers, pudding, sweetened yoghurt–standard toddler fare.
    I can’t break my grandchildren’s starch addiction in the brief times I have with them, but maybe when they grow up I will be there to tell them there’s another way to eat that will make them feel a whole lot better and prevent or reverse the diseases that are heading their way. When I was growing up, I ate like they do, and have been able to change my ways (thanks first to Dr. Atkins and now you) in the last few years. Keep putting the message out there–some of us are listening and healthier as a result!
    Hi Ethyl–
    Thanks for the great comment. 
    I feel for you.  Fortunately, our daughter-in-law has taken our advice and prepares great meals for our grandsons.  When the first one was an infant and was to start on baby food there was no place to get organic baby food so she made her own.  She would cook turkey breast or some other kind of meat and puree it in a food processor.  Same with green beans, carrots, squash and other non-starchy veggies.  He had NO cereal.  And he’s fine.
    I see so many parents that do exactly what your daughter is doing.  I’m hoping the kids come through it okay, but I have my doubts. 
    Keep after it.
    Best–
    MRE 

  9. Thanks for a good blog!
    I live in Sweden and here low-carb is sort of underground movement. We are told to eat fibres and as little fat as possible and “light” products.
    A movement with LCHF have started thanks to a doctor (who had to leave her job). It seems this issue is more controversial than politics.
    I have just read your book from 1889 “Thin so fast” in swedish. You were there early where some of us are now. I´m waiting for your newest book in swedish.
    The obese epidemic is coming to Sweden some years after the US, but it is recongnized as a problem here as well. Diabetes (type 2) is increasing. The authorities say: More fibres less fat and the problems grows worse.
    I’m surprised to see so many young people in bars and cafés that are (still) slim. But I know that their drinking sweet drinks and sweet bred and cookies will get to them later on.
    But no-one will give them a warning.
    It’s so sad.
    It makes me sad to to see that photo with the children on top of this post. But it’s a very good illustration to the situation.
    When will the authorities wake up?
    Hi Arne–
    Thanks for writing.  The first book I ever had translated was when Thin So Fast, my first book, got translated into Swedish, so your comment brings back fond memories.
    I don’t have any control over what languages the books get translated into.  Foreign publishers buy the rights from our US publisher, then translate the books into their language.  Protein Power has been published in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Chinese.   Maybe you could encourage a Swedish publisher to buy the Swedish rights and translate.
    Better yet, read it in English.  Your English is very good.  You shouldn’t have a problem.
    Sorry to hear that Sweden has caught the obesity disease. 
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  10. Mike,
    This is a brilliant post. As I read, I had the same thought . . . what about the carbs? You answered that.
    Anecdotal evidence isn’t very scientific, I realize, but I’ve often thought that a successful diet could be extrapolated from what ISN’T on the plate of the obese people at the buffets. Repeatedly, they have plates filled with breads, other starchy items, and what protein they do eat is breaded and fried. Color, or lack thereof, is even a predictor!
    Keep up the great work. I read the blog every day.
    Richard
    Hi Richard–
    Thanks for the kind words.
    I, too, enjoy looking at plates in the all-you-can-eat buffet lines.  I try to look at the plates without looking at the person putting on the food to see if I can determine that person’s state of obesity by simply looking at his (or her) food choices.  After having done it for years, I can tell you that there is a high correlation between sugary, starchy, breaded foods and obesity.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  11. MRE: I completely agree. I only took exception to Cathy’s comment about equating junk food availability / childhood obesity to child abuse and flipped the coin, so-to-speak.

  12. I’m involved in a discussion on a low-carb board about the link between poverty and obesity, and I think it plays in here as well. If you have kids, and a limited food budget, it’s cheaper on the front end to feed them loads of starch – potatoes, pasta, hamburger helper, frozen pizza pops, etc – and a meal at McYukkles only costs about 5 bucks. It’s cheaper to buy kids soda or juice to take to school than bottled water (at least where I live!)
    One poster in the discussion made two grocery lists – one low-carb, one for cheaper ‘regular’ fare. The low-carb list worked out to be $80 more, even with shopping from the deals/specials flyer. For a family on a budget, that makes a huge difference.
    Rather than study whether people with kids are fatter than people without (what a stupid waste of money), maybe this link should be studied a little more closely. Course, they’d likely focus on the fat in the pizza pops and cheap cookies. Crazy.
    Hi Tracy–
    There is no question that a low-carb diet is more expensive than a high-carb diet.  Using cheaper cuts of meat and even cheaper meat (chicken, for instance) can make it less expensive, but it will still cost more than a bunch of high-carb junk.  A Mercedes costs more than a Ford Pinto.
    It’s a classic case of pay now or pay later.  And when we later, we pay not only dollars, but in less enjoyment of life as well.
    One of the ways I like to look at is to see how much protein your paying for.  Protein is really the only essential macronutrient, and we all need plenty of good quality protein.   So, look at the number of grams of protein in some kind of junk food, divide those grams into the price of the food to get the price per gram of protein.  Then compare it to something like ground beef, and you’ll discover that the ground beef is a real bargain.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  13. I too read the “health” pages even tho I am not sure why I keep tortuing myself!
    I am also, sadly, addicted to reading blogs and message boards.
    On many of the message boards people ask how they can get their kids to eat “healthy”. The suggestions, hiding veggies in other foods, don’t teach the child anything. But, what burns me more than anything are the suggestions to give the kids veggies with salsa instead of dressing (less fat) and giving them “healthy snacks” like pretzels, pudding with cool whip, etc. Even when they mention real fruit, it’s always got a “dipper” of something loaded with sugar.
    Almost all the advice is to cut the fat, increase the “healthy” carbs. Let me tell you, I’ve been lambasted so many times for trying to point out that cool whip, pretzels, etc are not good food!
    I fear that the public is so brainwashed against fat!!! And they are so brainwashed to believe the “health benefits” of fiber….so what is a good fiber content? 3g per serving!!! No mention of checking the rest of the catbs, oh no….those are fine!
    Eh….it makes me sick!
    On a good note, the article about Dr Vernon (The Cure For Diabetes) did make it to MSN!!!
    Thanks for all your posts Dr Mike….I enjoy reading them, and learn something almost every time!
    Hi Cindy–
    Thanks for the kind words.  As to the nutritional changes we need so sorely…they will come, but I fear it will take a lot of time and a lot of disease before it happens.
    Best–
    MRE 

  14. Our 16-month-old daughter is doing great, but of course the older she gets, the more assertive she is about food. Luckily, she is still nursing, which apparently gives some defense against developing obesity as well, much more so than formula. Her first food that she was crazy about was roast chicken. Her main snack is baby carrots or frozen peas. While she doesn’t like bread, when we’ve given her a cracker, she seems like a drug addict, so at most we will give her one cracker per day. The same seems to be the case with popcorn, which we don’t have in the house, but she will come across at get togethers and its extremely difficult to say no when everyone else around you is eating that thing, but you’re telling your child no, you can’t eat that! Funnily enough, ice seems to have the same addictive qualities that crackers and popcorn do for her, so whenever we’re desperate, it’s usually the ice that comes out!
    I do think part of the problem is that parents, especially new ones, are concerned that there kids might not eat ENOUGH. There’s so much emphasis on this very early in a child’s development, that I think it has a profound effect on making parents a bit paranoid about their child eating. So if the child decided they don’t want to eat the healthier stuff, I’m betting a lot of parents just think “oh well, I tried” and then go on to give them whatever it is they WILL eat just to get the calories in. Of course, kids will survive quite well without eating much or anything for a meal or two or three, and then they will be a lot more likely to eat anything, healthy or not, once that real hunger kicks in!
    Hi Levi–
    Having reared three and now working on three grandchildren I know whereof you speak.  It’s difficult, especially when giving in is so easy.  It’s like the TV.  It’s so easy to just plop them in front of the TV to keep them happy.  At least now there are videos available that feed their brains as they watch.
    It would be better, I’m sure, if kids never had any of the sugary high-carby crap that all kids love, but as a practical matter, you can’t totally keep them from it.  So, controlling it is way better than most unenlightened parents do.  The one thing a always encourage people NOT to do, is to not use sweets as a reward.  If you do, the kids end up associating sweets with something wonderful, and, in my opinion, it makes it much more difficult for them to deal with their sweet addiction later on because of all the psychological implications.
    Best–
    MRE 

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