Experts Suggest Kids’ Snacks Should Be 100 Calories, But Here’s The Problem

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Primary school children in England can consume three times more sugar than is recommended as a result of unhealthy snacking. So, Public Health England launched a campaign that encourages parents to give their children snacks of 100 calories or less — and only two of them a day, according to the BBC. The campaign, though its intentions are good, isn't perfect: encouraging kids to count calories (or their parents to start doing it for them) isn't the best idea, and, in the United States, eating healthily can be expensive or, for families who live in food deserts, just impossible.

Children in England consume about 400 cookies, 120 cakes or pastries, 100 portions of sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drinks, specifically, the PHE survey data found. And these all contain about 175 to 270 calories each, according to the BBC.

Other researchers from multiple institutions across the globe — including the Special Institute for Preventive Cardiology and Nutrition in Salzburg, Austria, the Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland, and the University of Navarra in Spain — have also collaborated to analyze recent studies targeting the potential link between sugary drinks and obesity. The review was published in the journal Obesity Facts via the European Association for the Study of Obesity, and 93 percent of the studies analyzed concluded that there is indeed a "positive association" between the onset of obesity and the consumption of sugary drinks in both children and adults, according to Medical News Today.

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PHE's eight-week "Change4Life" campaign will therefore offer money-off vouchers towards items like lower-sugar yogurt, sugar-free jelly, plain rice crackers and drinks with no added sugar in some grocery stores, the BBC reported. It encourages parents to give their children a maximum of two snacks a day containing no more than 100 calories each, not including fruit and vegetables. PHE also improved its app that shares the content of sugar, salt and saturated fat in foods and drinks to help parents make smarter choices for their children.

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Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, told the BBC that she hoped the campaign would help empower parents when they're out shopping for groceries for their kids. "Our research showed us that parents appreciated a rule of thumb," she said. "They were surprised how much sugar their children were consuming in snacks."

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While a "rule of thumb" sounds like a good idea, teaching kids to count calories sounds like quite the opposite. One father wrote in Jezebel's Daddy Issues series that he knew his young daughter would soon enough be bombarded by the idea of that she has to count everything she eats, "potentially making herself go hungry because of some numbers on the side of a box and the feeling that too many of them could make her feel... fat." He said he'd even heard preschoolers rejecting food because of their calorie counts.

"I don't think it's a good idea to teach kids about calories," he wrote. "I think it's more important to teach them to eat healthful foods and to play like crazy."

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Some health officials would agree. According to KidsHealth, a source for physician-reviewed information and advice on children's health and parenting issues, calories are not the enemy. Children need calories for energy, but consuming too many without burning them off through activity could lead to weight gain, which then could lead to other health complications. For example, obese children are more likely to have issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol (risk factors for cardiovascular disease), and breathing problems like sleep apnea and asthma; they also have a higher risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes, according to U.S. San Diego Health.

The Huffington Post writer Marci Warhaft-Nadler shared tips for parents to keep their kids healthy. She said to stop the talk about weight gain and pick foods with healthy ingredients. Listen to kids' bodies' hunger and satiety signals, and understand that kids are growing and have the appetites to match. Get active with your kids, and set examples by loving and respecting yourself. "Food should be enjoyed and not feared," she wrote. "Play more, stress less."

Children certainly should be playing more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests. According to data from the CDC, around 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States have been diagnosed with obesity. In fact, the prevalence of obesity is almost 9 percent even among 2- to 5-year-olds. But it's important to note that childhood obesity is also more common among children in certain populations; for example, obesity disproportionally affects children from low-income families, according to the CDC.

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From 2000 to 2010, the overall prevalence of obesity among young low-income children aged 2 to 4 years old increased significantly from 14 percent in 2000 to 15.5 percent in 2004 and to 15.9 percent in 2010, according to the CDC. It did drop again to 14.5 percent in 2014, but the number still suggests that obesity is a public health issue for low-income families in particular.

Encouraging families to buy specific healthier foods from select supermarkets might then be cost prohibitive for American families who cope with overweight-related issues.

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Programs like Change4Life highlight that getting kids to eat well starts by giving them access to healthy foods — the voucher/discount system does this, and then they need to be encouraged to eat what fuels their bodies rather than what is the lowest in calorie count, while also getting more involved in physical activities. Healthy eating is an issue communities have to tackle from a number of directions, and the PHE campaign sets an example for how that might be possible.

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