The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) position is that there is no difference between healthy foods for adults and children aged 2 and over, except for age-appropriate adjustments in texture and portion size, according to a new position paper in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier.
“If you think about baby food, the archetype or the terms we use broadly to describe the food we feed our children, it really is a social norm or a societal structure that we have built in,” says Pamela Rothblitz Polya, EdD, RD, College of Health Professions, Rutgers, New Jersey State University, Piscataway, NJ, USA.
Baby food is practically defined as a food likely to be consumed by children between the ages of 2 and 14, both at home and in the community. There is a well-established belief in the United States that children need more different types of foods than adults, and many of these foods are highly processed; Energy-dense and high in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. A diet that favors these foods can have significant adverse effects on children’s preferences and tastes, may exacerbate the food fear or selective eating behavior sometimes observed in children, and may affect their health in the future.
In the position paper, the authors note that the idea that children need different foods than adults appears to have originated during the alcohol prohibition era when the hospitality industry created children’s menus to offset the loss of revenue from alcohol sales. Since then, it has been known that children over two years old can eat the same healthy foods as adults, but baby food and menus have become a social norm. This social norm persists because ultra-processed foods such as chicken, sausage, French fries and grilled cheese are prevalent in the food environment and are highly palatable to children.
Nutrition educators play key roles in changing consumer demand and social norms around food choices. They can do this by creating family and community resilience and healthy adaptation to the ultra-processed food environment, and by promoting knowledge that children over two years of age can eat the same healthy foods as adults (subject to appropriate age and nutritional requirements). They can also help improve the unhealthy aspects of the baby food archetype by working with the media, the restaurant industry, and policy makers on health promotion messaging, marketing, menu labeling, and healthy default menu options. By shifting standards around baby food toward healthy food that both adults and children can enjoy, nutrition educators can promote healthy social and behavioral changes at the individual, family, community, and community levels.
“I think we need a partnership with communities, the food industry, and policy makers,” Rothpletz-Puglia says. “We need to partner and create mutually beneficial solutions.”
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