Wednesday, August 18, 2010

nutrition "education," calorie counting for the preschool age

I was enjoying the local farmer's market this weekend and sitting next to my daughter who was coloring at a lovely little shaded area with beanbag toss (based on the food pyramid-ugh) when I read this piece of cow-dung. I was only happy that my little M doesn't know how to read yet.

The bottom part if you can't read it says: (exclamations are theirs, not mine)

Circle the healthiest choice (fewest calories)!
Ring the cowbell!

1/2 cup diced fruit salad (60 calories)

1/2 cup diced fruit salad with 2 Tbspn orange juice (88 calories)

1/2 cup diced fruit salad with 2 Tbspns light yogurt (96 calories)

Oh, where to begin!!

Nutrition education for children has the potential to do great harm. I wonder why adding yogurt is not "healthy" or the assertion that the definition of "healthy" is low calorie. Low-calorie and low-fat diets fail nutritionally for small children (and fail for adults too.) I won't elaborate on why this is garbage "nutrition" info which is more harmful than helpful. (Think of a table of first grade comparing calorie and fat counts in the name of health-it's happening people.)

I spoke with the nice folks who worked for this farm/education group and explained that I was a family doctor and feeding specialist and that their info was wrong and dangerous. I also said I would not stick around for the cooking demo (fruit salsa, could be great, but don't want M hearing about "healthy" eating from these folks...) The lady explained that they had a dietitian come up with the materials and that they "struggled" with them.

Brother. Stop. Don't wade in where you are not qualified, don't promote more craziness around food. Why not just color in the picture and talk about all the delicious foods at the market, talk about how gorgeous the colors are. Do your demo, be positive, be happy, let us taste the amazing fruits of our farmer's labors, just leave "health," calories, fat out of it. It managed to do what so much nutrition and health info does these days, take such potential and passion and energy- and poison it with misinformation and misguided food moralism.

(BTW, I couldn't help saying, "More cowbell!" ala SNL. I thought I was pretty clever...)

Keep your eyes out for garbage nutrition messages aimed at kids. Share them here! I think you'll be surprised what you find when you open your eyes...


  1. Wow... just, wow.

    Thank you for speaking up on this, for bringing it to their attention. Maybe you should offer to help create new materials for their kids. :) (Watch me add more work for you!)


  2. Thanks Atchka, I did offer to help. I don't think I will hear from them. I have tried to be a voice for more rational, humane and effective education for children, but folks are so convinced they are right with their message of restriction, avoidance and control that I find it very frustrating... In the end, they seem to want to use parts of what I have to say, but not others and that doesn't work. If people really want my help, I am happy to offer it!

  3. Wow. They are SERIOUSLY misguided. Beyond the fact that it's always a great idea to pair a protein/fat like yogurt with a fruit (and yummy, to boot), why on earth would one try to "eliminate" any of those snacks? They were ALL healthy! It's not like they were comparing fresh fruit to a bag of Doritos.

    And while I'm on it, why bother with pointing out calorie info anyway? To make kids paranoid when their orange doesn't have a calorie count printed on it?

    Kudos to you for trying to help redirect them and boo to them for resisting your advice! By the way, I would have laughed and laughed if I saw that coloring sheet. Beyond ridiculous.

  4. This sort of perspective on food and nutrition is so depressingly normal that I'm sure they were confused about why anyone would object. Why, everyone knows that healthy means "fewer calories and less fat"!

  5. One that is currently making me crazy is that there is a Kellog's cereal commercial that shows a group of kids playing doctor and one of the children explaining to the other that fiber is good for you and good for your tummy, and goes on to say that Froot Loops and another cereal (I think maybe Apple Jacks?) contains three grams of fiber. The thing that gets me isn't so much that the commercial exists but that the marketing is clearly geared towards kids. I could more understand an ad geared at adults that says, hey your kids probably don't get enough fiber and Froot Loops now contain fiber, but providing that information to kids directly seems really weird to me.

  6. We just got our pre-season lists of what my first- and second-graders (both "at risk" for obesity, both working--through me--with a good nutritionist, both being fed with advice from this website) need to bring to school every day, and the list includes two "Healthy" snacks. It is written just like that, with a capital H and in boldface type. There is nothing wrong with specifying what they need to bring, or even suggesting, however heavy-handedly, that the snacks be healthy. It makes about as much sense to me as people suggesting that they bring a "salty" or "sweet" snack!

  7. Aviav, this cracks me up. My school did the same about organic, fruits etc and the reports of what M gets for snacks (freezie pops, chocolate covered pretzels, cheeze puffs, marshmallows) are not what you would think of as "healthy." I don't mind she's getting the foods so much as the intrusion, the "HEALTHY!" lunch orders or what you should pack... Also, a friend went to a school gig where they invited the kids to have a "healthy" refreshment and it was punch and fruit roll-ups...

  8. All those snacks listed on that page seem very healthy and good for kids to eat. Kids are still growing and they need fuel for their bodies. Teaching them to calorie count at such a young age really sets them up for possible problems with food later in life.

  9. Dr. Rowell, as a current med student who is trying to get through without punching people in the face for their rampant fat hating, I really cherish your blog. There are not a lot of MDs that I've made the acquaintance of that get it. So, thank you. I am so sick of "eating: you're doing it wrong."

  10. I think nutrition education really needs to be evaluated in this country. I'm very concerned what they plan to teach kids in school -- as everyone seems to think nutrition education is the answer to weight problems. I plan to run a series on my site to help parents understand how to educate their children, in positive age appropriate ways, without doing harm.

  11. That is so bizarre. I could kind of understand if they were trying to compare stereotypically "healthy" with stereotypically "unhealthy" snacks, but this is not even just "fewer calories means more healthy," it's "two spoonfuls of yogurt is enough to turn something from healthy to unhealthy." That's ridiculous.

  12. unscrambled, hang in there. It's tough. If you want to email me privately I'd be interested in where you are in Med school. It is one of my long-term missions to see more of this work taught to med students and residents, but not sure how to get my foot in the door. If you have any ideas... :)
    Doctors are doing so much harm with this issue, and I know they are truly trying to do what is best, they are truly convinced that their approach is the right one...

  13. Mare, I'd love to know what your site is. Send a link when you get it up. Satter has some great policy statements online and in her books (Secrets) about age appropriate nutrition ed. It could be a great resource.

  14. I don't understand this, when will people do a documentary about 10 year olds dying in eating disorder wards, because of this nonsense?

    Also, I have a fever, and the only cure is MORE COWBELL!!