This is the first in a short series of columns about recent research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (JAND). Even though I’m not practicing right now, I try to stay abreast of current trends and new findings in the field of nutrition. In the coming months, I’ll select studies that have broad interest and/or benefit to the general public, provide a brief summary and a ‘takeaway’ point from a dietitian’s perspective.
First up, three studies that pertain to children and their eating habits: one about watching TV, one about sleep, and one about food intake during the summer. With children unexpectedly eating more meals at home right now, the findings of these studies could be beneficial to parents and/or caregivers.
A recent study, published in the September 2019 issue of JAND, found that children ate about 30% of their meals while in front of a screen (television, phone or tablet), and that 37% of those occasions were while snacking. Unfortunately, TV-watching was associated with unhealthier food intakes, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fewer fruits and more grain-based items.
Bottom Line: We know mindless munching in front of the boob-tube is a pitfall at any age. With kids home 24/7 and parents trying to work, referee fights and attempt to homeschool, it’s tempting to set them up in front of the television more often. While kids are likely having more screen time than usual right now, it would be wise to designate a specific time for snacks, encourage eating at the table—without a screen—and identify appropriate snack items ahead of time. Keep healthy snacks, such as apples, cut-up veggies and hummus, or yogurt in easy-to-reach spots. Consider limiting beverages to water or milk only, except for special occasions.
A study published in the October 2019 issue of JAND found that children tend to gain weight during the summer. While the temperature outside is still chilly, kids’ schedules—depending on household—might look more like summer vacation than a typical April. This study specifically looked at how food security, that is the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, affects intake during the summer and how intake differs based on the day of the week. The study found that neither children from food-secure nor food-insecure households met national recommendations for diet quality, and that intakes tend to be less-healthy on weekend days in summer. Specifically, children from food-insecure homes tended to consume fewer cups of fruit and vegetables, and more sugar-sweetened beverages on the weekends than children in food-secure homes.
Bottom Line: Just because kids have more unstructured time doesn’t mean their diet quality needs to suffer, too. While we’re all struggling not to treat everyday like the weekend right now (myself included!), our waistlines will thank us this summer if we can at least EAT like things are normal. Some small things parents can do are offer fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack, and encourage water instead of juices and sodas.
A study published in JAND in July 2019 made associations between diet quality and sleep patterns in preschoolers living in low-income homes. Research shows that those in a lower socio-economic status tend to have disordered sleep, lower diet quality and higher rates of childhood obesity. This study identified various diet patterns (ex. “Vegetables, Healthy Proteins, Sides,” and “Processed and Fried”) and how those diet patterns related to sleep quality. The results suggest that higher intakes of ‘unhealthy foods’ (ex. “Processed and Fried”) were associated with later midpoint sleep and greater difference in weekday vs. weekend sleep timing. Previous research of older children and young adults has shown that these sleep patterns are related to unhealthy eating and obesity. According to the study, “Later sleep timing and differences in sleep duration and timing from weekends to weekdays were related to less-optimal dietary pattern scores in young children.”
Bottom Line: For youngsters, keep bedtimes the same all week. It’s not like they really know the difference, right? Sufficient sleep helps us regulate our moods, hunger and energy levels. Tired kids (and adults) tend to be more irritable, hungrier and gravitate to less-healthy options. Children thrive on structure, albeit in different ways—I’m not advocating for military-like precision here, so give them specific times for meals, snacks and sleep.
Jansen, E., Peterson, K., Lumeng, J., Kaciroti, N., LeBourgeois, M., Chen, K., & Miller, A. (2019). Associations between Sleep and Dietary Patterns among Low-Income Children Attending Preschool. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 119(7), 1176-1187.
Trofholz, A., Tate, A., Loth, K., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Berge, J. (2019). Watching Television while Eating: Associations with Dietary Intake and Weight Status among a Diverse Sample of Young Children. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 119(9), 1462-1469.
Lee, J., Kubik, M., & Fulkerson, J. (2019). Diet Quality and Fruit, Vegetable, and Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption by Household Food Insecurity among 8- to 12-Year-Old Children during Summer Months. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 119(10), 1695-1702.