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Tuesday, 1 June, 1999, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Children rebel over diet restrictions
Children need a balanced diet, say researchers
Restricting children's access to snacks may actually encourage them to adopt an unhealthy diet, according to US research.

It found that children who were only allowed access to certain snacks for a short period were likely to eat more of them than snacks to which they were given free rein.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that restricting access to sugary and fatty foods may in the long term have the opposite effect to that intended.

In the US, young children's diet is high in fat and sugar and well below government recommended levels for fruit and vegetables.

Only 1% of children aged two to 19 are estimated to eat a balanced diet and obesity is becoming a widescale problem.

The researchers who carried out the study say restricting access to unhealthy foods may seem a simple way of tackling the problem.

But they suggest it may be better in the long run to let children eat snacks, as long as they are seen to be part of a balanced diet.


They studied two groups of children.

The first group of 31 children were three to five years old.

If snacks are restricted, children want them more
They were asked to rate a range of snacks in order of preference.

Two snacks which had similar neutral scores were chosen for the experiment - peach and apple bar cookies.

The children were asked which of the two foods they would choose as a snack.

One of the bars was restricted and children were only allowed acess to it for a very short time during the five-week study.

The second study included 40 three to six year olds.

Certain snacks were restricted from their diet. Their behaviour was studied at a daycare centre when the snack was placed in a jar in front of them and they were only allowed access to it for very short periods.

Their parents were also interviewed about whether they also restricted the snack at home.

The first experiment found that children were more likely to ask for the forbidden snack, more likely to say nice things about it and more likely to try and obtain it than the other snack.

The second experiment also found that children tended to eat more of the restricted snack when they were given access to it than to the control snack.

Children whose parents restricted access at home were more likely to be overweight.

Self control

The researchers, led by Dr Jennifer Orlet Fisher, conclude that even young children are "acutely aware" of restrictions on their food intake and that limiting access throws a greater focus on the forbidden food.

They say limiting food may interfere with a child's ability to exercise self-control over their diet.

"Restricting children's access to palatable food within their eating environment does not promote moderate patterns of intake and paradoxically may actually promote the very behaviour its use is intended to reduce," they conclude.

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