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Rice cereal controversy – does it make kids fat?

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One of these off the wall ideas surfaces every few months supported by some articulate spokesman, and covered more or less unquestioningly by network programs like GMA and ABC News and parroted by our favorite tackling dummy, Fooducate. ABC Radio covered this uncritically as did the LA TImes and a number of other gullible web sites, but ABC TV News was more skeptical.

In this case, the hypothesis is that by feeding our babies rice cereal made from white rice instead of, say, brown rice, we are forming habits that are less nutritious. The spokesman this time is Dr Alan Greene, who has a web site called DrGreen.com, where he holds forth, not with thoughtful medical discussions, but with really slickly produced videos where he comes across more like a carny barker than the pediatrician you’d want to take you kids to. (Be suspicious of doctors with web sites. They often have webbed feet!)

Greene is really a pediatrician and really has a medical degree, but has never engaged in scientific research or published any technical papers. But after seeing lots of babies he developed this hypothesis that feeding processed white rice cereal to babies instead of brown rice cereal, which does have more nutrients, is a significant cause of obesity, causing babies to develop preferences for less nutritious carbs. Both are readily available.

He thinks this should be changed and has developed a campaign and a very shallow web site called WhiteOut to support this position. Actually, it is just a couple of paragraphs and a rather annoying snake-oil salesman video.

Sounds great, but he presents not a single shred of evidence for this. In fact there is no research at all on his idea. Responding, Gerber, a major baby cereal manufacturer told ABC News that they

"are not aware of any scientific studies that support the theory that white rice cereal contributes to childhood obesity, and welcome the opportunity to review any relevant scientific data."

And ABC also interviewed Keith Ayoob, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who said in part that

“…pediatricians should focus more on proven studies when it comes to obesity.”

In other words, he may sound like a carnival barker, but he’s not even close to accurate. No cigar. Whenever you hear one of these off-the-wall ideas, look around a little to see if it is supported by any evidence. This one isn’t. Feed your baby any kind of cereal you want. You can find both kinds of cereals at Stop and Shop.

You can also make your own rice baby cereal. Instructions can be found here.

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Don’t miss a single article by acclaimed cook and food science writer Jim Cooper. You can get each one delivered to your Email inbox for free as it is published. Click on the Subscribe button at the top or bottom of each column.

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