Healthy Kids: The top 12 “bad” foods

First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to “work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.” According to CDC statistics, childhood and adolescent obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years; approximately 17% of kids aged 2 – 19 are obese.

In other words, one in five children is overweight by age 6. That’s crazy!

We all want what’s best for ourselves and our kids, but sometimes there is conflicting advice about what’s “best”.

According to an article in The New York Times, experts at Harvard University have recently published a study on the factors that influence weight gain, and its relation to exercise, sleep, TV watching, smoking and alcohol intake.

Predictably, the study showed the more a person exercised, the more they tended to not gain weight; they less they exercised the more they tended to gain weight.

Surprisingly, the kinds of foods people ate had a bigger impact than the amount of exercise.

According to this research, there are some foods that are more likely to contribute to weight gain (“bad” foods), and there are foods that resulted in weight loss or no gain (“good” foods).

Bad foods – foods that contribute to the greatest weight gain:

  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Sugar sweetened drinks
  • Red meats
  • Processed meats
  • Potatoes
  • Sweets and desserts
  • Refined grains
  • Other fried foods
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Butter
  • Refined carbs (white flour)

Good foods – foods that result in weight loss or no gain:

  • Yogurt
  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter

The study also showed, surprisingly, that dairy was nuetral – low fat milk or full fat milk and cheese didn’t make any difference in weight gain/loss.

What about eating everything in moderation? Here’s what the experts have to say:

“This study shows that conventional wisdom – to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods – isn’t the best approach,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in an interview. “What you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you’re eating.”

Also untrue, Dr. Mozaffarian said, is the food industry’s claim  that there’s no such thing as a bad food.

“There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be  to eat the good foods more and the bad foods less,” he said. “The  notion that it’s O.K. to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”

So, what can we do as parents, to raise healthy children – to help our kids make healthy choices?

Help our kids to eat right, and get plenty of exercise.  What else?

Here’s some tips from HealthyKids, Healthy future – Let’s move!  Although this website is oriented towards childcare providers caring for the 12 million babies and kids in child care in the U.S., these are also great tips for parents, including topics such as how to make nutrition fun and how to get kids moving:

Let’s move! Childcare goals from infancy to

1. Physical Activity: Provide 1-2 hours of physical activity throughout the day, including outside
play when possible.

2. Screen Time: No screen time for children under 2 years. For children age 2 and older, strive to limit screen time to no more than 30 minutes per week during child care, and work with parents and caregivers to ensure children have no more than 1-2 hours of quality screen time per day (as recommended by the American Academy of

3. Food: Serve fruits or vegetables at every meal, eat meals family-style whenever possible, and don’t serve fried foods.

4. Beverages: Provide access to water during meals and throughout the day, and don’t serve sugar-sweetened drinks. For children age 2 and older, serve low-fat (1%) or non-fat milk, and no more than one 4- to 6-ounce serving of 100% juice per day.

5. Infant Feeding: For mothers who want to continue breastfeeding, provide their milk to their infants and welcome them to breastfeed during the child care day. Support all new parents’ decisions about infant feeding.

 Links to more info:

Child and teen BMI calculator

Healthy eating

Physical activity

We work together as a family to try and make healthy food choices, but it all starts at the grocery store or farmers market.  If you bring junk into the house, it will get eaten; if you bring healthy food into the house, it will get eaten.

We’ve also tried to make it easier to make healthy choices.  We dedicated one of the big drawers in our fridge to yogurt, so the kids can easily grab one for a snack, along with a shelf on our fridge door for veggies, so if you want a salad or some carrots to munch on you don’t have to think – it’s always in the same spot and easily accessible. And we dedicated a spot on one of our counters for fresh fruit and veggies.

Every family is different, and you will have to decide what is right for your family. Me?  While I plan on cutting back on foods in the “bad” list, it doesn’t mean we’ll never have potato chips, butter, or a birthday cake again. Especially since my birthday is this week, and I have my eye on one of those decadent chocolate cakes from Wegmans.

How do you help your kids make healthy choices? And kids, any tips you’d like to share?

Photo by c a r a m e l.


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