Mealtime Partners, Inc.

Specializing in Assistive Dining and Drinking Equipment

August 2013 Independent Eating and Drinking Newsletter

Independent Eating...   is a Wonderful Thing

August Topics:

  • New Information About Children Choking

  • The Science of Snack Food

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New Information About Children Choking

In March 2010 Newsletter, Mealtime Partners reported about the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on choking. Further insight into the topic of choking in children aged 0 to 14 years old has been recently provided in the July 2013 edition of the Journal of Pediatrics. The article reports information about non-fatal food related choking events that resulted in hospital emergency room (ER) visits throughout the United States. Approximately 112,000 children were seen in ERs during the period covering 2001 through 2009 because of food related choking incidents. 15% of the cases were related to choking on hard candy, followed by other candy (12.8%). Meat, bone and fruit and vegetables, followed. However, the meat did not include hot dogs which traditionally are thought to be a high choking hazard, and were eleventh on the list.

The type of foods that causes choking is related significantly to the age of the child. For infants under one year old, baby foods that cause choking include formula and breast milk, fruit and vegetables, and baby biscuits that can have chunks broken off by the baby. For toddlers ranging from one to two years of age, fruit and vegetables, nuts, and some candies are the culprits for choking. At this age, back teeth have not developed and, therefore, small children are unable to grind those types of food into particles to be able to swallow them safely. With this in mind, toddlers should not be fed foods that cannot be broken into tiny bits with only the front teeth.

Children two and older have the molars to grind up food but do not necessarily have the knowledge to chew food thoroughly before swallowing. Therefore, they should be taught to chew thoroughly prior to swallowing. Also, it is extremely important that children only eat while they are seated and are always supervised when eating. Because their airways are small relative to older children and adults, it is wise to cut all food into very small pieces. Therefore, even if a child chokes on a piece of food, the food particle is small enough not to completely block the child’s airway and the child can get oxygen even while choking.

As children get older (2, 3 and 4 plus) they are offered a broader variety of food that requires more chewing.  Better control of food in the mouth allows children to eat hard candy and chew gum. It is difficult to have a child sit down while they are eating candy, but when they are moving around with candy in their mouth they are at greater risk of swallowing the candy before it has dissolved (or, in the case of gum, before it is removed from the mouth).

The most current national mortality data related to deaths caused by inhaling food and non-food items is from the year 2000. During that year, 160 children under 14 years of age died from choking. 41% of the deaths were from inhaling food and 59% from non-food related items. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has become increasingly vigilant about making the public aware of safety risks to children from toys and similar items that have small parts. Coins are also high risk items for swallowing and choking.

For more information about choking risks, please refer to the following articles: Nonfatal Choking on Food Among Children 14 Years or Younger in the United States, 2001–2009, and Nonfatal Choking-Related Episodes Among Children --- United States, 2001.

The Mealtime Partner Dining System
How often do people who are fed, snack? The answer is, not often. This is because snacking is time consuming and it is difficult for a care provider to sit and feed someone a chip every minute, or two. When snacking, people like to eat at a leisurely pace taking bite after bite, often quite slowly.

The Mealtime Partner is able to serve potato chips, Cheetos and most other common snack foods. It can serve just about everything from soup to nuts, and in-between. Its design allows a wide variety of foods to be served ranging from pureed and minced foods to cut up steak and potatoes. The volume of each bite of food served by the spoon is controlled by the bowl cover they use for each bowl of food. Therefore, the hearty eater can have large spoonful after spoonful of their meal while someone wanting, or needing, smaller bites, can be served a level spoonful of food for each bite.

Because the user is in control of the device, the pace at which they eat is up to them. Therefore, they can snack, or enjoy eating a full meal at the pace that they set.
The Mealtime Partner with Cheetos
The Mealtime Partner Serving Cheetos

For more information about the most flexible assistive dining system available today please visit: The Mealtime Partner Description, or call us at 800-996-8607. Instructional videos on how to use the Mealtime Partner are also available for viewing at: Instructional Videos.


The Science of Snack Food

Almost everyone likes snack foods despite most of us knowing that they aren’t very good for us. Most snack foods are high in fat, sugar or salt, or a combination of all three. What most of us don’t know is the amount of engineering that goes into the development of these treats. Food scientists from the “big food” industry (companies like Nestles, Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Coca Cola, etc.) work constantly to develop foods that will be irresistible to the consumer. The goal is to develop foods that when eaten are, as Goldilocks said in the Three Bears, “Just Right”. They have the perfect combination of ingredients that when they are put in the mouth, they are not too sweet or salty, and have enough fat in them to not be bland. When eaten, they have the optimum flavor for the majority of individuals. This is known in the food industry as the “bliss point”. It is the optimum balance! And, if more sugar, salt or fat were to be added, the enjoyment of eating it would decrease. For example, people reach a point of satiation or fullness quite rapidly when eating chocolate. This is described as “sensory-specific satiety”. Their taste buds, brain and stomach are aware of the chocolate that has been eaten because it is dense in both fat and sugar, and the ingredients are of high impact and you sense you have had enough. However, Cheetos Cheese Puffs ingredients are combined in such a way that they do not over stimulate the taste buds but provide ongoing pleasure with each bite; they dissolve quickly enough that the brain and stomach do not acknowledge that they have been eaten.

Once the bliss point is achieved, the engineering challenge is to make the food dissolve quickly enough in the mouth to trick the brain into thinking that no calories have been consumed. Thus people will go on eating bite after bite just like the potato chip advertisement that challenged the consumer “I bet you can’t eat just one.” This phenomenon is described as “vanishing caloric density”. Food stimulates the taste buds because it has lots of flavor but it does not satiate the appetite. Thus it is easy to over eat.

More information on this topic can be found in a New York Times article written by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Michael Moss: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. The Times article is adapted from Michael Moss’s book: “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” which is currently on the New York Times Best Seller List.  

However, the phenomena of the bliss point and vanishing caloric density can be of advantage when helping someone to become an independent eater. It should be noted that eating this type of food on a regular basis is not recommended, but it can be a very useful teaching tool as it is a highly motivating food and encourages participation when teaching self-feeding. Offering food that is high in flavor promotes a desire to eat the food. In many cases it is perceived as a treat. Thus the student is motivated to take a bite. Once the food is in the mouth, it does not require a substantial amount of chewing, but dissolves relatively quickly in the mouth and can be swallowed easily. Because the brain does not recognize that calories are being consumed, the student will eat more during the training session, motivated by the flavor that is engineered to promote extended eating. The most popular snack food in Mealtime Partners experience is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Not only do they provide flavor that is desirable, but the hotness of the snacks allows them to be “felt” in the mouth by the taste buds as well as literally being felt by the tissue in the mouth. For some people who have poor oral sensation, this effect is extremely helpful in allowing them to know where food is in their mouth.

Snack foods that have high taste impact are a good motivator but should only be used in the early stages of teaching independent eating. Healthful food should be introduced as quickly as possible and the “junk” food discontinued once it has served its purpose.

It should be noted that the Mealtime Partner Dining System can serve snack foods like Cheetos and potato chips once they are broken into bite size pieces. And, it can also serve a wide variety of standard table foods, as well as pureed or minced food. Its versatility allows a wide range of user’s needs to be met and empowers them to be independent. For more information, or to play a video of the Mealtime Partner serving food, click here.

NOTE: Remember when offering someone “junk” food that it contains a wide variety of chemicals, and it is wise to check on food allergies prior to offering anything to eat.

Did You Know? Did you know that sleep deprivation makes us want to eat “the wrong” foods, like fatty food? A report published in this month’s Nature Communications titled “The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain" describes a study conducted by researchers at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California Berkeley, to evaluate how the brain responds to food choice when well rested versus sleep deprived. The study found that the brain responded differently depending upon whether it was well rested, and found higher calorie foods more appealing when experiencing lack of sleep. Though this was a small study it confirmed what scientists have hypothesized: that lack of sleep makes people gain weight.

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