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Can some fast-cooking convenience foods make your child obese? Food preparation

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Research to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, suggests that the amount time parents spend on food preparation at home influences children's food intake decisions made in the laboratory without parental supervision. This week is the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, which runs from July 29th to August 3rd, 2014.

Parents' reported food preparation time is inversely associated with energy density, says new research that suggests that the amount of time parents spend on food preparation at home may affect children's eating behavior away from home and that children whose parents spend more time cooking choose healthier foods. The less time parents spend on cooking or preparing food such as chopping up the vegetables and fruits or making nourishing stews or cold soups, stuffed vegetables or various dips from legumes, the more kids ate fatty, sugary, or starchy foods such as snacks, sugary processed cold cereals, and chips or fries and highly processed commercial bread or fatty cold cuts, hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza, and burgers, or pasta and fats, or the cheaper end of frozen foods, to fill up their bellies.

"In general, research shows that children tend to eat inadequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods while eating large amounts of sugary and fatty foods," Shehan said, according to the July 29, 2014 news release, Parents' reported food preparation time is inversely associated with energy density. "It's encouraging to see that parents can possibly affect the quality of their children's food choices outside the home by spending more time cooking." The news release does not mention the first name of Shehan or with what university is the individual associated. But the news release does note that the study, conducted through Penn State's Department of Food Science and Department of Nutritional Sciences, involved 61 children between ages 4 and 6 and their parents.

You also may wish to check out the abstract of a talk by another researcher given at the meeting of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, this week, "The Taste World of Childhood." That talk discussed how many illnesses of modern society are, in part, the consequence of poor food choices. Although foods high in salt and refined sugars contribute to poor health, people of all ages consume them in excessive amounts, in part because these foods have powerful hedonic appeal, especially for children.

It has been argued that inborn, evolutionarily driven taste preferences conspire to predispose children to consume once rare calorie- and sodium-rich foods that taste sweet or salty, respectively, and that their basic biology programs them to like sweet sources of energy and salty minerals during periods of growth, says the abstract of that presentation.

As much as children like sweet and salty tastes, kids reject bitter taste, which is thought to have evolved as a deterrent against ingesting toxic substances. What the talk covered focused on the basic science revealing that children live in different “taste” worlds than adults.

Kids not only naturally prefer higher levels of sweet and salty tastes and reject lower levels of bitter tastes than do adults, but the ability to block bitter taste depends on a person’s age, as well as the chemical nature of the blocker and bitter agent, says that presentation's abstract.

What results you see, says that presentation, is that children’s basic biology does not predispose them to favor the recommended low-sugar, low-sodium, vegetable-rich diets and makes them especially vulnerable to society's current food environment high in salt and refined sugars.

Another issue parents have to deal with is children's heightened sensitivity to some bitter tastes. That bitter taste issue also underlies the challenge of administering medicine to children. A lot of drugs (or supplements), like some vegetables, often taste bitter, to which children are especially sensitive. The point of that talk is to let people know that understanding these differences will help everyone improve children’s diets and health.

Children whose parents reported more time on food preparation tended to make healthier food choices in the lab than children whose parents spent less time at home on food preparation, even without parental supervision

The main findings in the research mentioned by the news release on food preparation time taken by parents (or anyone else cooking for kids) showed that children whose parents reported more time spent on food preparation at home independently chose to eat meals that were lower in energy density (a measure of calories per gram) than children whose parents reported less food preparation time. The study, conducted through Penn State's Department of Food Science and Department of Nutritional Sciences, involved 61 children between ages 4 and 6 and their parents.

Each family in the study participated in two laboratory visits, where children tasted and rated their liking of a variety of foods and were then given unlimited access to these foods without adult instruction or interference. Children were allowed to eat as much or as little of any of the foods presented, which included highly energy dense foods such as chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies, as well as lower calorie foods such as grapes and broccoli. Meanwhile, parents completed questionnaires addressing various topics including their home food environment, their child's food preferences and habits, and their family's socioeconomic status.

To elucidate the neural mechanisms of such age-related changes in taste preference and sensitivity, electrophysiological experiments examined taste response characteristics of chorda tympani nerves

These nerves mediate gustatory information from the tongue to the brainstem. The researchers observed no significant differences in activity of the chorda tympani nerves by taste stimuli across the different age groups.

This research suggests parental home food preparation may influence children's food intake patterns, even when children are eating outside the home

Future research studies are needed to see whether encouraging increased amounts of home food preparation or teaching parents food preparation skills will improve children's eating habits. "Even after controlling for family income and whether or not children had a parent at home full time, we found that children whose parents spend more time cooking make better choices," Shehan added, according to the news release. "Our food preferences develop early in life, so getting young children to eat nutritious foods can help them stay healthy in the long run.

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