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News from the January 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association

CHICAGO The January issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association features research studies focusing on everyday eating habits of consumers. Researchers look at why sack lunches may not always meet the nutritional needs of preschool children and how making time for meals directly influences diets of young adults.

Packing a Lunch for Preschoolers May Not Be a Good Idea

Approximately 13 million children in the United States eat three or more meals and snacks each day at one of the country's 117,000 regulated child-care centers. Due to increasing cost of food preparation and storage, more and more of these centers are requiring parents to provide food for their children.

But sack lunches sent from home may not regularly provide adequate nutrients for the growth and development of young children, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Third Coast Research and Development Inc. of Galveston, Texas. The study included 74 three to five-year-olds attending full-time child-care centers that required parents to provide lunches. Lunch contents were observed and recorded for three consecutive days.

The researchers found more than 50 percent of lunches provided less than minimum amounts of calories, carbohydrates, vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc, and 96 percent of lunches provided less than minimum recommended amounts of dietary fiber. The lunches did contain 114 percent of the recommended amount of sodium.

When parents were asked if lunch provides an important opportunity for their children to receive nutrients, all 97 agreed. But 63 percent responded that they tend to pack only foods they know their child will eat.

The researchers concluded that, even though parents understand the importance of lunch, they may not know how to consistently pack a nutritious sack lunch for their children. "When parents do not consistently pack a nutritious sack lunch they miss an opportunity to teach and reinforce good dietary habits to their children. As child-care centers shift the responsibility for providing meals and snacks to parents, they must address the practices that affect the long-term health and well-being of the children they serve," the researchers said.

Young Adults Need to Make Time for Healthy Meals

While young adults enjoy and value time spent eating with others, 35 percent of men and 42 percent of women say they do not have time to sit down for a meal, according to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The study of 1,687 adults ages 18 to 25 found a majority agreed they enjoy social eating, and feel it is important to have social eating experiences and to have regular meals. But because of constraints on their time from school or work, a significant portion of respondents regularly have to "eat on the run."

The researchers found eating dinner with others was significantly associated with a healthier diet including fruits and vegetables. "Eating on the run" tended to include more soft drinks, fast food, total fat and saturated fat.

The researchers concluded, "Postsecondary institutions and businesses employing young adults should be encouraged to support good nutrition by providing scheduled time and access to facilities for meals, along with healthful meal and snack options."

Other studies published in the January 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association include:

  • Total Antioxidant Content of Alternatives to Refined Sugar
  • Diet and Physical Activity Patterns of School-Aged Children
  • Peer-Modeling Influences Girls' Snack Intake
  • Effect of Portion-Size Information on Food Intake


Contact: Jennifer Starkey
American Dietetic Association

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