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Offering children a wide variety and large quantities of snack food encourages them to eat more

Less focus on plate size and more on reducing quantity and variety of food key to getting children to snack less.

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A new study has found that offering children a wide variety and large quantities of snack food encourages them to eat more – and this practice may be contributing to Australia’s weight problem.

The research*, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and published in the latest International Journal of Obesity, also found that how snacks are presented (in a large or small container) has little influence on how much children snack.

Lead researcher Dr Jessica Kerr said their study found children weren’t greatly affected by container size, with food consumption mainly driven by the quantity/variety of snacks on offer.

“There has been a popular push by nutritionists and public health officials towards replacing large dishware with smaller versions to nudge people towards healthier decisions,” she said. “But we have found dishware size has very little effect on the amount of food consumed.”

Dr Kerr said while the overconsumption of snack foods is an important contributor to obesity, most people do not recognise the impact it has on their calorie intake.

“Children and adults should only consume energy-dense snacks occasionally – they do not need to be part of daily energy intake,” she said. “But the reality is that Australians typically get around 30-40 per cent of their energy intake from snack foods.”

Dr Kerr said three times as many children in Australia are now overweight or obese compared to 30 years ago.

“About 20 per cent (1 in 5) of children are overweight or obese,” she said. “There are many complications of children being overweight such as type 2 diabetes, orthopaedic and respiratory disorders, liver problems and sleep apnoea.”

Dr Kerr said until now studies into snacking behavior were limited by self-reported data or small sample sizes.

“Past dietary studies have mostly focused on main meals,” Dr Kerr said. “It is important to determine on a larger scale how dishware size and the quantity, variety, and energy density of snacks affect both child and adult snacking behavior when apart from each other outside of the family environment,” she said.

For the study, participants ate during a 15-minute snack break between 20 other health assessments at the Child Health CheckPoint, which looked at the health of 1800 children, aged 11-12 years, and their parents across a variety of factors from physical activity to sleep.

The children and parents were given a snack box containing non-perishable items such as crackers, cheese, a muesli bar, biscuits, a tub of peaches and chocolate.

The quantity/number and variety of snack food items and the container sizes that the food was presented in varied. Children and parents ate separately and at different times.

Researchers recorded how much food each child and parent left in the box uneaten, and calculated the total grams and kilojoules consumed.

“Children who were offered more snack items consumed considerably more energy and a slightly higher food mass. Manipulating box/container size had little effect on consumption,” she said.

The impact on adults was little, however Dr Kerr said adults were more aware that they were being observed and this may have impacted their eating behaviour.

Dr Kerr said further research should be done with parents and community leaders to better understand the use and purpose of snack food items in the face of time pressures, marketing, and child preferences.

“Although there is sometimes a place for snack items to bridge the gap between main meals, our results reinforce calls to educate parents and schools about appropriate snack items and amounts of food to offer children,” she said.

“Our research indicates that more attention and resources should be directed to toward offering children smaller amounts of food and, specifically, fewer and less variety of energy-dense foods and pre-packaged items. Interventions should not solely invest in reducing dishware size in the expectation that this will lead to reduced intake of snack foods.”

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Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of South Australia, Monash University, Deakin University, University of Sydney and the University of Auckland also contributed to the findings.

*Publication: Jessica A Kerr, Pauline W Jansen, Fiona K Mensah, Kay Gibbons, Tim S Olds, John B Carlin, Susan A Clifford, David Burgner, Lisa Gold, Louise A Baur and Melissa Wake. ‘Child and adult snack food intake in response to manipulated pre-packaged snack item quantity/ variety and snack box size: a population-based randomized trial.’ International Journal of Obesity.

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Fitness

6 Exercise safety tips

Now, as social restrictions ease, you may find yourself stepping up your workouts, whether you’re training for an event or working to improve your game in a recreational league.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are more aware of their health and wellness. Now, as social restrictions ease, you may find yourself stepping up your workouts, whether you’re training for an event or working to improve your game in a recreational league.

Sprains, strains and injuries can happen to even the most seasoned athletes. When you’re testing your limits, even a minor injury can alter your performance. Consider products and supports like these from the CURAD Performance Series product line, available at Walmart and Amazon, to help you get back in the game quickly and safely.

Find more resources to support your fitness journey at CURAD.com.

Keep Dirt and Germs Away

The more active you are, the harder it can be to find a bandage that stays with you all day or all game long.

Spray Away Sore Spots

Controlling mild pain can help keep you at the top of your game, and a topical analgesic works fast to heal common pain brought on by fitness and exercise, such as pain in knees, feet, shoulders and backs.

Put Pain in the Past

When recovery becomes the name of the game and pain relief is needed after daily workouts or bodily injuries. Cold packs work to heal bruises, reduce swelling and relieve headaches and general pain points while microwavable heat packs provide satisfying heat therapy to address sore and stiff joints, muscle cramps and tension.

Reduce Impact of Knee Strain

Weak, injured or arthritic knees can come from many sources, including tendonitis and a wide range of conditions that result in strain or overuse. An adjustable band can provide support for on-field sports and during workouts or everyday activities.

Manage Pain and Relieve Pressure

If you participate in endurance and strength exercises or certain sports, you may ask a lot of your joints. Kinesiology tape can be configured a multitude of ways to help reduce pain and improve blood circulation, as well as relieve tension and pressure.

Control Back Strain

When your back is strained, your body and performance can suffer. A mild or moderate sprain can benefit from strong support and compression.

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Fitness

Exercise can provide relief for dry, itchy eyes

A significant increase in tear secretion and tear film stability after participating in aerobic exercise can be another remedy for relieving dry, itchy eyes.

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Photo by Quinten de Graaf from Unsplash.com

A team led by researchers from the University of Waterloo discovered that a significant increase in tear secretion and tear film stability after participating in aerobic exercise can be another remedy for relieving dry, itchy eyes. 

Every time we blink, our eyes are covered in tear film—an essential protective coating necessary for maintaining healthy ocular function. Healthy tear film comprises three layers–oil, water, and mucin–that work together to hydrate the ocular surface and protect against infection-causing irritants like dust or dirt.

When any part of the tear film becomes unstable, the ocular surface can develop dry spots, causing eye symptoms like itchiness or stinging and burning sensations.

“With so much of our activity tied to screen usage, dry eye symptoms are becoming increasingly common,” said Heinz Otchere, a PhD candidate in vision science at Waterloo. “Instead of having to use eye drops or other alternative treatments, our study aimed to determine if remaining physically active can be an effective preventative measure against dryness.”

Fifty-two participants were divided into two groups—athlete and non-athlete—to participate in an exercise session. Participants in the athlete group exercised at least five times per week, while non-athlete participants exercised no more than once per week. Researchers, which included experts from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, performed visual examinations before and five minutes after each exercise session, where tear secretion and tear break-up time were assessed.

While participants in the athlete group showed the largest increase, Otchere says all participants experienced a meaningful boost in tear quantity and tear film stability after the exercise session. 

“It can be challenging for people to regularly exercise when the demand is there to work increasingly longer hours in front of screens,” Otchere said. “However, our findings show physical activity can be really important for not just our overall well-being, but for our ocular health too.”

The study, Differential effect of maximal incremental treadmill exercise on tear secretion and tear film stability in athletes and non-athletes, was co-authored by Otchere, the University of Cape Coast’s Samuel Abokyi, Sekyere Nyamaah, and Michael Ntodie, and Ghana’s Our Lady of Grace Hospital’s Yaw Osei Akoto. It was recently published in the Experimental Eye Research journal.

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Fitness

Late-life exercise shows rejuvenating effects on cellular level

Late-life exercise mitigates skeletal muscle epigenetic aging.

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Photo by Caley Vanular from Unsplash.com

For people who hate exercising, here comes some more bad news: it may also keep you younger. Not just looking younger, but actually younger, on an epigenetic level. By now, the benefits of exercise have been well established, including increased strength of bones and muscles, improved mobility and endurance, and lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

But younger?

A study recently published in Aging Cell, “Late-life exercise mitigates skeletal muscle epigenetic aging,” suggests this could be the case. The paper was written by a team of seven researchers across three institutions, including Kevin Murach, an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation at the U of A. Murach’s grant from the National Institute of Health funded the study, and he was one of three co-first authors.

Bootcamp for Mice

While the paper is dense with data, reflecting the use of several analytic tools, the experiment that generated the data was relatively straightforward. Lab mice nearing the end of their natural lifespan, at 22 months, were allowed access to a weighted exercise wheel. Generally, mice require no coercion to run and will do so voluntarily. Older mice will run anywhere from six to eight kilometers a day, mostly in spurts, while younger mice may run up to 10-12 kilometers. The weighted wheel ensured they built muscle. While there isn’t a direct analogue to most human exercise routines, Murach likened it to “a soldier carrying a heavy backpack many miles.”

When the mice were studied after two months of progressive weighted wheel running, it was determined that they were the epigenetic age of mice eight weeks younger than sedentary mice of the same age — 24 months. Murach noted that while the specific strain of mice and their housing conditions can impact lifespans, “historically, they start dropping off after 24 months at a significant rate.” Needless to say, when your lifespan is measured in months, an extra eight weeks — roughly 10 percent of that lifespan — is a noteworthy gain.

Methylation, My Dear Watson

The science behind this, while complicated, hinges largely on a biological process known as DNA methylation. A recent New York Times article discussing Murach’s work on muscle memory described methylation “as a process in which clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach themselves to the outside of genes like minuscule barnacles, making the genes more or less likely to turn on and produce particular proteins.”

As the body ages, there tends to be increased DNA methylation, or even hypermethylation, at promoter sites on genes in muscle. “DNA methylation changes in a lifespan tend to happen in a somewhat systematic fashion,” Murach explained, “to the point you can look at someone’s DNA from a given tissue sample and with a fair degree of accuracy predict their chronological age.” Due to this, researchers can use one of a number of “methylation clocks” to determine the age of a DNA sample.

DNA Methylation, Aging and Exercise

While the paper strengthens the case for exercise, there is still much that needs to be learned. Though the connection between methylation and aging is clear, the connection between methylation and muscle function is less clear. Murach is not yet prepared to say that the reversal of methylation with exercise is causative for improved muscle health. “That’s not what the study was set up to do,” he explained. However, he intends to pursue future studies to determine if “changes in methylation result in altered muscle function.”

“If so, what are the consequences of this?” he continued. “Do changes on these very specific methylation sites have an actual phenotype that emerges from that? Is it what’s causing aging or is it just associated with it? Is it just something that happens in concert with a variety of other things that are happening during the aging process? So that’s what we don’t know.”

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