Can water change the way we eat?

U. OREGON (US) — Serving water with meals could be a simple but effective way to fight the nation’s growing obesity problem, particularly with kids, say researchers.

For a new paper published in the journal Appetite researchers surveyed 60 young U.S. adults (ages 19-23) about the role of food-and-drink pairings.

A second survey involved experiments with 75 U.S. children (ages 3-5) to determine the role of drinks and vegetable consumption. The same preschoolers were tested on different days under differing scenarios involving drinks served with vegetables.

Preschoolers ate more raw vegetables, either carrots or red peppers, when accompanied with water rather than when accompanied by a sweetened beverage. Older participants favored the combination of soda served with salty, calorie-dense foods rather than soda and vegetables.

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“Our taste preferences are heavily influenced by repeated exposure to particular foods and drinks,” says T. Bettina Cornwell, professor of marketing at the University of Oregon. “This begins early through exposure to meals served at home and by meal combinations offered by many restaurants.

“Our simple recommendation is to serve water with all meals. Restaurants easily could use water as their default drink in kids’ meal combos and charge extra for other drink alternatives.”

Serving water could be a simple and effective dietary change to help address the nation’s growing obesity problem, which has seen increasing number of diabetes cases in young adults and a rise in health-care costs in general, says Anna McAlister, assistant professor of advertising, public relations, and retailing at the University of Michigan.

Drinking water with meals, Cornwell says, also would reduce dehydration. While estimates of dehydration vary by sources, many estimates suggest that 75 percent of adult Americans are chronically dehydrated.

From an early age children learn to associate sweet, high-calorie drinks such as colas with salty and fatty high-calorie-containing foods like French fries.

“When we look cross-culturally we can see that food-and-drink combinations are developed preferences,” Cornwell says.

“If the drink on the table sets the odds against both adults and children eating their vegetables, then perhaps it is time to change that drink, and replace it with water.”

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