Mon August 22, 2011


Researchers have long known that what we eat as children has a direct impact on our health and welfare as adults. But can we change our bad eating habits once they’ve been formed? A new study suggests that we can. KUNC commentator Dr. Marc Ringel has more.

I don’t know why my family was so anti-sugar in the 1950s.  I guess we were ahead of the times.  Though everyone was constantly bombarded by television commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Smacks and Sugar Frosted Flakes, at my home we ate Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Rice Krispies.  For a treat we’d add raisins or sliced bananas.  But never any sugar.

When I was nine, my folks sent me to summer camp in Wisconsin.  We could always choose cold cereal for breakfast.  They served all of those sugary brands I’d never tasted at home. 

It was love at first sight.  I was even crazy about the oatmeal, which I loaded up with milk and sugar, unlike the way Mom served it with salt and a single pat of butter.  I took to calling the oatmeal that I sweetened with an outrageous amount of sugar, “Ringelmeal.”

Even though Smacks, Corn Pops and Frosted Flakes have dropped the word “sugar” in their appellation and nearly all other breakfast products avoid a sweet noun or adjective in their monikers, the content of simple sugars in cereals, especially those advertised to children, is as high as ever.  And we know it’s bad for kids.  These days, obesity and diabetes are rampant in children and in the adults they grow up to be, thanks, in large part, to the nutritionally empty carbs that have become the dietary foundation for so many of us.

But there’s hope.  A study published in January in the medical journal, Pediatrics, showed it may not be that hard for sweet-tooth cereal fanatics to change their ways.

The authors of this report randomly assigned 91 children ages 5 to 12 who attended a summer day camp a choice either of three high-sugar or three low-sugar cereals for breakfast.  Fruit and sugar packets were freely available to everybody.

Kids who got the sweeter products ate almost twice as much cereal as the ones who’d been stuck with the less sweet ones.  Those who were served the lower carb products were seven times more likely to eat fruit than the higher carb group.  And they added little extra sugar to their meal.

In the end, low and high sugar groups gobbled about the same number of calories.  But those who ate lower-sugar cereals consumed significantly more nutritious breakfasts: more vitamins, protein and fiber and less simple carbohydrates.

“Sure,” you’ll say, “but will these low carb kids maintain this healthy eating habit once camp is over?”  According to the report, if they are offered low-sugar cereals and fruit, children may well steer a healthier course.  About the same proportion of the low sugar as the high sugar group said they “liked or loved” their breakfast.

These days, when I choose to consume breakfast cereal, its high fiber, dressed with fruit or artificial sweetener.  And never ever do I eat Ringelmeal. 

See.  There’s hope.

Related Program