Fussy Eaters: The Unhealthy Eating Habits of Australian Children

Guest: Dr. Deb Levy

Presenter: Tabetha Moreto

Guest Bio: Dr. Deb Levy is a consultant pediatrician with a unique holistic approach to children’s health and wellness. She is committed to providing the highest quality of paediatric care for families who want a holistic approach to health and a strong therapeutic relationship with their doctor. Dr. Levy has been a children’s doctor for over 14 years working at The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, regional hospitals across Australia and now in a private clinic in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Her experience includes general paediatrics, paediatric emergency medicine, paediatric intensive care, antenatal consultations and newborn medicine. She is adept at managing acutely unwell children and complex medical conditions.

Segment Overview: In this segment, consultant pediatrician Dr. Deb Levy joins the program to highlight the alarming issue regarding the unhealthy eating habits of Australian children. Instead of eating vegetables, majority of children prefer to eat foods high in fat and sugar. Dr. Levy believes that cutting out sugary junk food and sweets, people are not depriving their children, rather they are helping them thrive. She offers some tips on how parents can get their children to eat more healthy.


Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone. Welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Dr. Deb Levy a consultant pediatrician based in Sydney with a unique holistic approach to children’s health and wellness. She believes that cutting out sugary junk food and sweets people aren’t depriving their children rather, they are helping them thrive. Today, we’re going to talk about Australian children eating mostly unhealthy food and what can we do to tackle this issue. Without further ado, welcome to the show Deb. It’s so nice to have you here.

Dr. Deb Levy: Thanks, Tabetha. Nice to be here.

T: My pleasure. So Deb, please tell us more about yourself in your work with families and children to develop better eating habit.

L: Well, as you’ve already mentioned, Australia as well as the rest the world really has a problem with children’s eating habits around fussy eating as well as what they’ll eat instead. I guess in terms of my work I see a lot of children coming into my practice who do exhibit signs of fussy eating and a lot of parents are worried about it. When you look at the stats across Australia and around about 85% of children are fussier around some type of food, and this is research that’s been commissioned by … and not surprisingly the majority of the foods are vegetables that children and wanted to avoid. 75% of children don’t like certain vegetables, and if you look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 5% of our children have the recommended servings of vegetables a day. So here you have a group of the population that really are not getting the nutrients and the vital phytonutrients, micronutrients, etc., that they really need in order to have those building blocks to grow and to reach their full potential. And on the other hand it’s also about not just what they’re missing out on, but what they’re eating instead. This is what children are preferring to eat and the research begin has shown that 75 to 80% of children would prefer to eat the unhealthy foods such as fast-food, giant foods and snacks foods. I am really worried for these children. I think when you look at our children’s population’s health as well as their weight.

T: Very interesting and I agree with you. I can relate to this issue myself because I have a three-year-old daughter who doesn’t like to eat vegetables. I try my best to get her to eat broccoli and all the good stuff, but instead she always wants cereal, hamburgers, french fries and things like that.

D: Not surprising and I still have a three-year-old daughter, so I can relate on all levels. And it’s not surprising if you think about children, they’re taste buds are geared towards sweet and salty foods especially sweet foods, breast milk for example of course with some flavor to it, and that’s easy for them to persist and gravitate towards those. Which is why as parents, some of us healthcare practitioners is so important for us to steer them towards a much more healthy eating.

T: That’s true and speaking of junk food, let’s talk about sugar consumption. What are your thoughts on sugar consumption and children’s diet particularly given this new research?

D: It’s worrying. I think that’s the first thing that I want to say. I’m sure the majority of your listeners are very aware of the dangers of sugar as I’ve already mentioned children will gravitate towards sweet food. I think what I often focus on when I’m chatting to families is really educating them. So that’s empowering them in terms of their knowledge and with that knowledge I believe it will help them make healthier food choices for their children. For example reading labels, if you look at the recommended amount of sugar for a child it’s anywhere from 3 to 8 teaspoons a day depending on their age, and this is refined sugar I’m talking about. These are added sugars. I’m not referring to fruit and bearing sugar content, part of it is sugar. So if you look at 3 to 8 pieces, well, what does that mean looking at the back of the label and everything’s in grams? So, what I educate parents is 4 grams of piece of … sugar is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. So that will give them a little bit of a better picture in their head as to how much sugar their child is actually ingesting. So that’s the story with refined sugar. I’ve already mentioned natural sugars and I do think it’s important not to overdo them. Yes,
fruit is healthy and 100% in each child’s diet should include some fruit but not too much fruit. This goes back to again empowering families and increasing their knowledge in terms of what your child should be eating, how many servings and what does the serving actually mean.

T: That’s true, and I’m the same myself when I go to the supermarket, I always make sure that I check the labels because nowadays we have all kinds of food products with added sugar and sometimes products would have the label that would say all-natural, sugar-free, it’s healthy for you, but when you look at the label, it’s not.

L: Absolutely, they’re quite deceptive and I found the strangest of it, will have sugar in them … all of the other day and the sugar was there. I mean there’s really no need to be sugar with …

T: That’s true. I agree with you on that. Now, let’s talk about health professionals. How can health professionals help increase nutrition in children’s diet and help reduce sugar consumption, also.

L: I think it can be tough for health professionals, but that … It’ll depend on how much time they have to spend with families. I certainly think it’s important whenever you see a child in your room always include the dietary history as part of your history and that will certainly alert you to any potential issues. As healthcare providers we do have a luxury if we have the time of going a little bit deeper in trying to work out whether or not they will actually have any nutritional deficiencies such as iron or calcium for example. Tips for parents, I usually work around four points. So the one point is empower yourself, and this is around parent’s banning knowledge, directing them to reputable online resources whether it be government-based or … to the kids huddle to have some great information. Really again around knowing what your child should be eating. The second point is teaching a good example as parents. So here, I’m referring to sitting around a table having a meal together and enjoying the food that you want your child to be eating. You don’t want to be grimacing when you’re eating that broccoli, as you’ve mentioned, because children learn by mimicking us. So really it’s a great way to try and get them into trying new foods. The third point is about involving children and their food choices and making it fun. So this is age dependence or it could be something simple, like giving them the choice of which vegetable they want for dinner or which protein they want for dinner. You could if you’ve got the space made to grow a little herb garden. Get them catching food and helping you with food prep or even just laying the table. They really like to feel like they have some sense of control and against the three-year-old child as you’ve mentioned, Tabetha I’m sure that you’ve experienced this. I also meant to making it fun. So what you don’t want is food and eating to become a stressful thing which it can easily slip into especially if you’ve got one of those spicy eaters where it becomes a chore, it becomes about punishment. You really want to try and step away from that. Try not to focus on the negative and rather praise what they are willing to eat and willing to try. The fourth point is don’t give up. It can be very despairing for parents but a lot of research has been done on this and it’s shown that sometimes it takes 10 to 20 attempts for a child to actually agree to eating a new food and introducing it into their diet. So don’t give up. You’ll get there and back to the issue of fussy eating. It’s often a developmental phase, too. So it can wax and wane but usually it does improve with time.

T: That was a fantastic point. I love it don’t give up. That’s true. There are times where it can be stressful for me as a mother trying to get my daughter to eat but I like what you mentioned earlier getting the kids to help you in food preparation and even though my daughter is only three years old, I’m starting to do that now especially and I’m surprised that she’s actually volunteering now like, “Mommy, I’m going to prepare the table.”

L: They love it, they do.

T: Deb, I’m sorry I would love to talk to you more but we’re running out of time. Before we go what is your main takeaway message to all of our listeners out there?

L: Help your children to make healthy food choices, each a rainbow of food and keep it fun.

T: That was a fantastic message. Deb, for those who want to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

L: They’re welcome to my website which is a www.drdeblevy.com.

T: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Deb for coming on the show. It was fantastic having you.

L: Thank you so much. Happy to come again as well.

T: And that was consultant paediatrician Dr. Deb Levy. If you liked this interview, transcripts and archives are available at www.hpr.fm. We’re on all social media platforms. So don’t forget to follow like and subscribe. Show us some love by subscribing to our HPR YouTube channel. We’re also available for download on Soundcloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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