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    Sunday, September 13, 2015

    Americans are Drinking Less Soda. So What ?

      The obesity epidemic is far from over but there’s good news: Sugary-soda consumption is down 25% since the late 1990s. Back then, we each drank 40 gallons of soda each year, on average. These days, each of us drinks only about 30 gallons of soda each year.

    Of course, 30 gallons is still a lot of soda. If I powered my small car with cola, I could fill my tank three times. But still, a 25% reduction is nothing to dismiss. It shows that all the public messaging about the impact of sugary sodas on health has worked. We’re not out of the woods yet, but as The New York Times observed last week, “trends are heading in the right direction for public health.”1

    Public health messaging works. At least it works when the message is straightforward, and the call-to-action is clear. What could be clearer than, “Drink less soda?” We get it. And we can do it.

    So why hasn't "Eat more fruits and vegetables" or "Eat fewer salty snacks" worked?

    The answer may surprise you. Fundamentally shifting our diets, which is what the call to eat more fruits and vegetables would require, means altering our ideas about food, our taste preferences for certain kinds of foods, and most importantly, our understanding of how to achieve a healthy diet. Nutrition education simply isn't up to the challenge.

    Don’t misunderstand. The public messaging about nutrition has been successful. It’s just that the kind of success that has been achieved is around knowledge, not behavior. I spend a lot of time talking to parents about feeding their kids. What I've learned is that parents know about nutrition. Not every parent can have a sophisticated conversation about Omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants, but they all know about protein, calcium, fiber, and vegetables. They also all know that cookies aren’t carrots. And yet, across the country our kids eat cookies a lot more often than they eat carrots. Clearly knowledge doesn’t always translate into action.

    One reason for this disconnect is that the more we beat the nutrition drum the more we turn people off: It may be good for me but do I really want to eat it? Research shows that Americans tend to believe that healthy food tastes bad and that junk food is, well, bliss.2,3

    Another reason for the disconnect is that people eat poorly because they are used to eating poorly. It’s a spiral where every meal reproduces itself.

    To affect real change in the way Americans eat we have to start talking about habits.

    If we can get outside our public policy heads—where we seem to believe that when people know what’s good for them they’ll do what's good for them— and connect with our eating hearts, it is easy to see that eating isn’t really about food, it’s about behavior: what, when, why and how much someone chooses to eat. For most people those choices have very little to do with nutrition. They have to do with taste, or comfort, or ease. Moreover, they have to do with habits: the style or pattern of eating that is most familiar to us. Habits bypass conscious thought.

    Surprisingly, we have had almost no public dialogue about eating habits in this country. Consequently, most people can’t even readily identify what constitutes a healthy eating habit. When I ask, and I frequently do at my workshops, parents stammer something about vegetables, then about balance, and then they usually get quiet in embarrassment.

    When I started doing research for my book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating, I was surprised to learn that three habits formed the basis of the Food Pyramid. These habits also inform the MyPlate eating plan. Three habits—yes, there are only three!—translate everything about nutrition into behavior:

        Proportion: Eating foods in relation to their healthy benefits. In other words, proportion is about ratios, eating the healthiest foods the most frequently, and the moderately or downright junky foods the least frequently.
        Variety: Eating different foods from day-to-day, and from meal-to-meal.
        Moderation: Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full and not eating because you’re bored, sad, or lonely.

    You may have never heard of these three habits, but successful parents teach these habits to their children, even when they are unaware that this is what they are doing. Parents who struggle often inadvertently teach the opposite.

    Here is one example about Variety: Although parents want to teach their children to eat a wide variety of foods, many parents inadvertently teach their children that it is "normal" to eat a monotonous, repetitive diet. Parents do this by serving kids the same small set of foods meal-in and meal-out, day-after-day. Why? Primarily because it gets the job done. And new foods are often a struggle.

    Different, however, doesn't mean new. Parents can teach their children the habit of eating a variety of foods simply by consciously rotating through foods so that snacks and meals are always different. Even a simple rotation using foods kids already accept (cereal today, toast tomorrow and eggs the next day) will do the job. I call this the Rotation Rule and it works by getting kids used to the idea of eating different foods and it's that idea that lays the foundation for new food acceptance.

    The Rotation Rule won't turn a picky eater into a child with healthy eating habits overnight. There are other skills kids need to learn, not just about Variety, but about the other habits, Proportion and Moderation, too. But teaching habits, rather than focusing on nutrition, highlights the kinds of lessons kids need to learn.

    American families need a game plan that shows parents how to teach their kids healthy eating habits. Educating the public about Proportion, Variety and Moderation is the kind of public health messaging we need. These habits are easy to understand and easy to implement. Moreover, they can take families from wherever they are and put them on the path to a lifetime of healthy eating.

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     This topic brought to you from psychologytoday.com
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