Let your children chew the fat

For well-meaning parents, selecting a diet that will help their child to avoid becoming obese seems pretty straightforward: cut out the junk, pile on the fruit and vegetables. Some gentle persuasion that low fat is good, coupled with limited availability of crisps, chocolates and biscuits, should mean children sail through adolescence without spare tyres.

And yet, parents’ paranoia about the thickening girths of the Play-Station generation has reached fever pitch: more than a quarter of children in English secondary schools are clinically obese, almost double that of a decade ago. But experts are concerned that parents’ attempts to steer children on to a virtuous dietary path can often backfire.

Last week, Dr John Kostyak and a team from the Pennsylvania State University warned in the online magazine Nutrition Journal that so-called “muesli mothers” are taking adult dietary messages to extremes and inflicting them on their children. Of particular concern, Kostyak says, are very low-fat diets consumed by an increasing number of children.

In their study, the Pennsylvania researchers found that children burn considerably more body fat than adults relative to the amount of energy that they use. By cutting out good fats – such as olive oil and sunflower oil – parents are effectively putting their child’s natural development in jeopardy. “Sufficient fat must be included in the diet for children to support normal growth and development,” Kostyak says.

Rachel Cooke, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says that a healthy diet should consist of about 30 per cent fats, mainly unsaturated from plant sources, and that getting less “might mean that children miss out on vital nutrients, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E that are vital for good health”.

There are also other, less obvious, risks of limiting fat intake. As unlikely as it seems, it could eventually make children fatter than those who gorge on calorie-dense snacks.

Source - Times