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Child and Adolescent Development

PSYC 2600

Second Written Assignment

Read the Lecture Extension 7.1, How Children Can Come to Prefer High-Fat Foods. Your assignment

is to review the literature on children’s nutrition and food preferences and prepare a weekly menu for

children (early and middle childhood as well as adolescence) based on your findings. Consider the fat,

sugar and salt content of the food you select for the menu. Based on your experience with what

constitutes a balanced diet. Also consider the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the foods you select

for the menu. Why are you recommending certain foods? Why are you restricting certain foods? What

types of foods are used as rewards, if any? Will the menu change during the holidays and for special


Lecture Extension 7.1

How Children Can Come to Prefer High-Fat Foods by L. L. Birch

Approximately 34 percent of the energy in the average American’s diet is derived from fat. In the

course of the school day, the most frequently consumed foods (for example, candy, potato chips,

cheese, peanut butter) contain at least 50 percent fat. Many people are aware of foods that are high in

fat content and of the consequences of a high-fat diet: however, this knowledge has resulted in little

reduction in the fat intake of most people.

Children’s food preferences are substantially influenced by what they see adults eat. High-fat foods

are widely available in stores and fast-food restaurants. Many high-fat foods also contain high levels

of sugar and salt, which make them even more attractive. Some high-fat foods, such as cheeses prime

beef, and rich desserts, symbolize preferred status in society. Special treats are also a central part of

special occasions. Birthday parties center around cake and ice cream. Halloween and Easter promote

candy consumption. Clearly, a variety of social forces lead children to prefer foods high in fat.

Although consumption of fat has some adaptive values as a concentrated energy sources, an innate

preferences for fat in humans has not been established. The only know inborn taste preferences is for

sweetness. Indeed, fatty foods do not have a common taste. Although people know when they are

tasting something sweet they often do not know when they are tasting something high in fat.

Sweetness has such a pronounced taste that it often masks foods that have a high fat content. Although

a food may be preferred, the fat in it may not be easily recognized or detected.

Eating is a social event for children. They look to others for clues as to what and how much to

consume. Evidence indicates that preschool interactions during mealtime are marked by high

frequencies of adult prompts that encourage eating (Ianotti, O’Brien & Spillman, 1994). When certain

foods (usually high in fat) are used as rewards for behavior or achievement, their desirability is

encouraged. When healthy foods are used as a means to a reward (“eat all your carrots, then you can

play”), children come to view these foods as something that must be endured and not enjoyed. To

facilitate a healthy diet, children should be provided with opportunities to learn to like, rather than

dislike, healthy foods.

Birch, L. L. (1992). Children’s preferences for high-gat foods. Nutrition Reviews, 50. 249-255.

Iannotti, R. Jo., O’Brien, R.W. and Spillman, D. M. (1994). Parental and peer influences on food

consumption of preschool children. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 79. 747-752.

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