According to a new study, toddlers who like sugar-heavy foods like cookies and cake are more likely to be overweight than those who prefer salty foods.
Scientists were intrigued to study what they call “eating in the absence of hunger.” In order to do so they looked at how many sweet and salty snacks the youngsters ate just after they had eaten a proper meal, according to Reuters.
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The research showed that toddlers who ate the most sweets, and got the most upset when sweet foods were taken away, were more likely to be overweight than those who preferred savory snacks and stayed calm when the snacks were removed. It appears that biological differences are to blame.
Study author Dr. Julie Lumeng, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that none of the differences in household or family characteristics could explain the differences.
“This behavior is probably inborn,” Lumeng said by email.
“Our study suggests that those kids who particularly like sweets are at greater risk of weight gain,” Lumeng said. “Depending on the child, some families may need to be more vigilant than others about keeping sweets out of the house and limiting how easily accessible they are.”
The study involved 200 children aged 21, 27 and 33 months. Each of the children came from low-income families that receive state help for food, healthcare and early education.
Researchers asked mothers to feed their children a normal lunch. After the kids had eaten they were given a plate with two Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, two Oreos, five frosted Keebler animal cookies, two rainbow candy blast Chips Ahoy cookies, two Keebler fudge stripe chocolate-coated cookies, 10 Pringles potato chips and 10 Frito-Lay Cheetos cheese puffs.
The children were left with the plate for 10 minutes and allowed to eat whatever took their fancy. Researchers then took away the plate, noting the child’s reaction, and then weighed the remaining food to see how much they had eaten.
Those that ate more total calories and more sweets at 27 months had an increased chance of weighing more than the average child at 33 months, according to results of the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Regular mealtimes and healthy foods cut down snacking
The results showed that boys, older children and those whose mothers had a higher level of education were more likely to snack after a meal. However the authors acknowledge that differences in the kids’ lunches could have influenced the results given the different foods they were fed. At the same time this could mean that the results are a truer reflection of what would happen in real life.
This particular study focused on low income families, but the findings were the same as in other studies that showed sugar-loving children in wealthier families were more likely to be overweight.
According to Dr. Lenna Liu, a pediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital who wasn’t involved in the study, poverty could influence eating habits. Those who do not get enough to eat or can’t always access healthy food could be more likely to snack.
Liu said that children who follow an unpredictable eating schedule are more likely to snack given uncertainty about when they will eat again. This behavior is observed across income levels.
Even those children who are usually fussy eaters will try foods that contain a lot of sugar, according to Liu. The pediatrician recommends that parents implement a regular meal schedule and provide healthy foods in order to cut down on thoughtless snacking.
“Limit, but do not overly restrict sweet foods,” Liu said. “In particular, limit sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda or juice – have them drink water or lowfat milk.”