Save America’s Babies from Obesity: Join Dr. Greene’s “White Out” Campaign


Fooducate recently presented at the Health 2.0 conference in San Diego. On stage, facilitating the discussion on food as a preventive medicine, was Alan Greene, MD, FAAP, pediatrician, author, and Stanford professor. His website, DrGreene.com, has been online since 1995!

Dr Greene, who is alarmed at the rising rate of obese babies, has spent the last few years trying to figure out how to reduce this alarming trend. He realized that the earlier in life good eating habits are formed, the better the chances are to avoid food related disease. But then he discovered that the first food most of American babies consume as a solid is white rice baby cereal, the metabolic equivalent of sugar! Oh boy…

That led to a new movement – White Out! Let every child’s first grain, be a whole grain.

We spoke with Dr. Greene about White Out, and were shocked by what we learned:

[Fooducate] What’s so bad about rice baby cereal?

[Dr. Greene] The number one ingredient in what we call rice ‘cereal’ is processed white rice flour. That’s all the rice there is. There are also some vitamins and minerals sprinkled in that babies could easily get in other ways. These don’t make this gateway junk food healthy. Babies’ long-term food preferences and metabolisms are influenced by early food exposures. At this critical window of development, ripe with opportunity, we are giving babies a concentrated, unhealthy carb. Metabolically, it’s not that different from giving babies a spoonful of sugar.

[Fooducate] What is the goal of the WhiteOut campaign?

[Dr. Greene] For more than fifty years the first food fed to most babies in the United States has been processed white rice baby food. The goal of the WhiteOut movement is to mobilize parents, grandparents, retailers, manufacturers, and pediatricians to end this practice forever and to get white rice baby food off of store shelves and out of babies’ mouths by Thanksgiving 2011.

[Fooducate] Is this a campaign against a particular baby food company, say Gerber? How did they respond when they learned about this campaign?

[Dr. Greene] Companies that make white rice baby cereal also make whole grain baby cereal. This is a campaign against white rice baby cereals. Unfortunately companies will keep selling white rice cereal as long as parents prefer to buy that for their babies.

[Fooducate] How can you say that a single food, rice cereal, is the taproot of the childhood obesity?

[Dr. Greene] Rice cereal isn’t just babies’ first food. In the US, this processed white flour is the number one carb eaten by babies from the first bite to the first birthday. On average, babies get about twice as many carbs for the entire first year from rice cereal than from any solid real food. Processed white flour is the single largest food influence on taste preferences and metabolism during the entire first year. It’s no wonder we have a snowballing obesity and diabetes epidemic.

[Fooducate] OK, so what do you recommend we feed babies as a first food?

[Dr. Greene] Let every child’s first grain be a whole grain! They won’t mind; they’ll thank you for it.

The easiest switch is just to pick up a whole grain version of baby cereal.

But the first food doesn’t need to be a cereal – try something from the produce aisle -  I love avocados, sweet potatoes (cooked until soft), or bananas as a first bite — mashed with a fork with some of the breast milk or formula they’ve already been getting.

[Fooducate] How can more  people get involved with WhiteOut?

[Dr. Greene] If you have a baby at home or are expecting, remember to choose whole grains as a first solid food.

If you are not at that stage you can still help – click on the WhiteOut Facebook Page and “like” it. That’s a start. Then tell two friends about the campaign and ask them to “like” the page and tell two other friends.

Every “like” makes a difference. Together we can change 50 years of tradition in just one year and change the trajectory of kids health for all future generations.

Amen.

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  • Zorbs

    My baby’s first food was a VEGETABLE, for the exact reasons stated above. Whole grain baby cereal isn’t really much more expensive than the white crap.

  • http://www.farmhousegarden.blogspot.com A.J.A.

    This one is close to home for me. I have a one year old daughter who is at the 3rd percentile for weight, and as one can imagine I have had all kinds of annoying and ignorant food advice come my way. First off, she is totally, perfectly healthy and smart, she is just slim. Because she is in a lower weight range, I couldn’t see supplementing the milk she was getting with filling, nutritionally lacking rice as a solid food. At six months I started her with mashed avocado and mashed banana, both of which are higher in calories than rice cereal, and the avocado contains the healthy fats good for brain function. She did eventually get some brown rice cereal, but this was part of a meal, not the meal itself. We would also puree kale, carrots, and other healthy veggies to feed her. Now, at a year, she eats all kinds of healthy foods, and even in a restaurant we are never stuck wondering what she’ll agree to eat- recently it was fresh guacamole, spinach quesadillas, and some of the rice and fajita veggies off of our plates.

    I truly believe that we are a nation overweight, beginning with the fat babies that everyone is so proud of. We heard very frequently proud comments like “oh, he’s only 6 weeks old, but he’s already wearing the 6 month old clothes.” And just yesterday I had someone look at my daughter with pity and proclaim how tiny she is (she’s average height). So when does being fat cease to be okay? 1 year old? 2? How do we change it then? It makes sense to me that right from the beginning, we should just feed our babies whole foods and healthy foods, and let them be the weight their body wants them to be (big or small, as long as they are healthy). As I have said many times in the last year, if every baby were at the 50th percentile for weight, it would be the first percentile.
    Hooray for any campaign that works to get babies the right start nutritionally.

  • Charlotte

    My sons first solid was green beans, purred with formula. He loved it! I got ONE pack of rice cereal, and he hated it. His go to cereals were home made brown rice cereal and home made oats cereal. And on occasion barley. I’ll continue that with our second child. That being said, it is scary at times how much he LOVES refined carbs. I try to keep him away from it as much as possible, but I have a husband who grew up on the white bread, white pasta, white rice and potato diet, so it’s hard. But we’ll get there eventually. :o )

    That being said, my son, now 22 months old, is in the 95 percentile heightwise, but “only” 75 percentile weightwise. Cute skinny kid, who doesn’t wear diapers during the day anymore. ;o) (Yes, I was just being a bragging mommy)

  • Pat Pearce

    I can understand where Dr. Greene is coming from given todays knowledge. However I would like to ask someone why we’re not all obese?

    • http://www.farmhousegarden.blogspot.com A.J.A.

      I agree that there are a lot of factors that come into play when determining health and weight issues. I think the point here is that a lot of people who give babies rice cereal really believe that they are giving their babies the best first food they can get. The idea is to raise awareness and provide information to people so they can make informed decisions.

    • http://twitter.com/DrGreene Alan Greene

      Great question, Pat! Let’s look at cigarette smoking as an example. There’s good data that it is responsible for 87-90 percent of all lung cancers in the US. But that doesn’t mean most smokers will get lung cancer. Depending on other things about their lives a heavy smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer is only 1-15%. This is many times higher than the rate in the general population, but most heavy smokers won’t get lung cancer.

      Likewise, a diet heavy in refined white flour is linked to greater risk obesity and to greater risk of diabetes even at the same weight. This doesn’t mean most will be obese or that most will have diabetes, just that it’s more likely than otherwise.

      One of my big concerns is that because most babies appear to get away with it, parents won’t see the value of “let every child’s first grain be a whole grain.” But just for practical reasons, if you want your child to eat more whole grains and less white flour later (like the USDA guidelines recommend), why not start that way even if just to make it easier.

  • http://www.foodieformerlyfat.com Foodie, Formerly Fat

    I made all of my daughter’s baby food from scratch because she flat out refused to eat baby food from a jar or box. I cooked fruits and vegetables, oatmeal and other whole grains, then even meat. The first adult table food she ate was my homemade spinach and feta quiche with pureed cauliflower soup.

    I agree that avoiding processed foods is a great way to get kids started off healthy and on the path to adult health. But I think, in some ways, it’s more important what the parents are eating. My children eat what we eat (for the most part). By me cooking, serving, and eating healthy foods my kids are more likely to do the same.

  • Jomiller11

    Its better to just put what the families eating in a blender

  • http://twitter.com/maddiemudster Maddie Mudster

    I’d be interested in buying a tee shirt? I’m LDS and I feel like being able to bring attention to it at casual events and things I attend for church, would be a good idea. Plus, it would negate the necessity of me having to more or less attack various new (often obese) moms about their nutrition habits with their infants.

  • guest

    I got on a health kick when I was pregnant — I ate exactly the way “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” suggested. When my son was born, I fed him whole grain cereal, mashed sweet potatoes, and butternut squash as his first foods. And then, tofu and avocado cubes, bits of melon, and whole grain pasta.
    I have no idea if this made any difference. But he’s 9 now. I just made a brown rice onigiri stuffed with a bit of smoked salmon for his lunch. He loved it — “…except, next time, less rice, more salmon, please, Mom!” I now have a child who loves sauteed spinach, kale chips, green olives, and smoked salmon. Not so fond of chips, candy, or white bread.

  • http://twitter.com/maddiemudster Maddie Mudster

    I guess one concern about going whole grain… I’m allergic to gluten, meat, and dairy, and always have been. It wasn’t as bad when I was a baby, apparently, but I know that we didn’t figure out the allergies until I was 8 or 9 and my stomach was often really upset (bloated and hard) as an infant. I actually went and checked with my mom on this and was only four months old when I had my first cereal. I would almost think that serving a rice based product initially would be a better idea, considering so few are in fact allergic to rice.

  • http://www.growingraw.com Growing Raw

    I’m interested in the answer to Maddie Mudster’s question about whether allergies will be noted earlier if babies are fed wholegrain cereals? Also, are wholegrain cereals as simple for their tummies to digest as the rice cereals?

    Given the info about rice cereal being a comparatively worthless carb I probably would have started my babies on the wholegrains – as it was I don’t think it was even on the shelf as an option – not near the rice cereal anyway. My kids mainly ate veggies mixed with breastmilk as their early solids because I read that fruit would lead them to develop a preference for sweet flavours.

  • Jim Cooper

    Is there any actual evidence that links white rice cereal with obesity in babies?

  • Jim Cooper

    According to Keith Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, pediatricians should focus more on proven studies when it comes to obesity.

    “Obesity is about an excess of calories, not about a particular food,” said Ayoob. “The idea of focusing so much attention on brown rice versus white rice-enriched cereal is really taking the thunder away from strategies that would be more appropriate.”

  • Jim Cooper

    A little investigation shows this is completely unproven. See
    http://exm.nr/f39xgm

  • Elena

    It should be mentioned that the “White Out” campaign is sponsored by Dean Foods WhiteWave division (see “Dr. Greene Misleads Organic Consumers” section in http://www.cornucopia.org/2011/04/largest-organic-milk-bottler-accused-of-misrepresenting-products/). This is not to discredit Dr. Greene’s efforts. I think he makes valid points about switching to whole grains, but there should be full disclosure.

  • Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon

    awesome