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Adding healthy drinks into kids pack lunches can dramatically improve nutrition
AFP Relaxnews / 11:42 PM February 26, 2018
New United States research has found that parents can significantly improve the nutritional value of their child’s pack lunch by swapping sugary fruit drinks for a healthy beverage.
Carried out by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut and the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin, the new study looked at the pack lunches prepared by parents at 30 early care and education centers in Texas for 607 preschool-age children ages 3 to 5.
They found that the most popular drink to be included in lunches was an unhealthy fruit drink, included in 25 percent of the pack lunches. These drinks have added sugar and are not recommended by health experts.
One hundred percent fruit juice, which has no added sugar and is recommended at certain serving sizes (4 to 6 ounces per day for children 3 to 5), was included in 14 percent of the lunches.
Another healthy option, plain milk, was also included in 14 percent of pack lunches. At least 3.7 percent of lunches included flavored milk.
The team then assessed the nutritional value of the lunches using the Healthy Eating Index score, which ranges from zero to 100 points.
They found that meals that included plain milk had the highest average Healthy Eating Index score (59.3), followed by lunches with 100 percent fruit juice (56.9) and flavored milk (53.2). Meals that contained a sugary fruit drink showed the lowest score (48.6).
After looking at the lunches without the drinks included, the researchers found that there was still a nutritional difference of 5.5 points between lunches containing plain milk and flavored milk. However, there was no significant difference between the scores of pack lunches with a fruit drink and pack lunches with a 100 percent fruit juice, suggesting that parents may have bought fruit drinks thinking they were 100 percent fruit juice.
“Parents, child care teachers, and the center directors may not realize how unhealthy fruit drinks really are. It’s as bad as drinking soda,” explained lead author Maria Romo-Palafox. “Working together, parents, teachers, and health professionals can spread the word about how important it is to choose a healthy beverage when packing a lunch for a child.”
The team also noted that sugary drinks in childhood could predispose children to lifelong consumption.
The findings may now have important implications for reducing childhood obesity nationally, with around 12 million children (61 percent) spending an average of 33 hours per week in care centers away from home where they eat two or more meals and snacks each day; that’s equal to between 50 and 67 percent of their daily calorie requirements.
“One of the most important things we found is that it is much easier than parents may think to pack a healthy lunch,” says Romo-Palafox. “The simplest way to improve the nutrition quality of the lunch is to include a healthy beverage.”
The results can be found published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. JB