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Eating Meat on the Bone Makes Kids More Aggressive, Study Shows

April 30, 2014

I don’t even know what to say.  Wait!  Yes I do: this is Medical News Today, where bloggers with Ph.D.’s in undisclosed areas sensationalize the findings of recent research reports!!!

And the authors are not totally blameless either:


“Prof. Wansink says the bottom line of their study is if you want to sit down to “a nice quiet, relaxing meal with your kids, cut up their food.” He says encouraging them to eat with utensils is a small step to better behaved kids.”


There were some amusing points within this study, let’s examine the opening paragraph:


“Showing teeth is a common sign of aggression in the animal world. Dogs retract their lips and bare their teeth as a sign that they are willing to fight (Galac, & Knol, 1997). The baring of teeth may have similar meaning in intuitive human behavior.”


When do most humans show their teeth? When they are trying to display dominance, such as when two dogs meet?  Or, when they smile?  The authors suggest that in biting the m. risorius muscle is activated, which is involved in both biting and grimacing, and this motor pattern may be related to increased aggression.


Maybe. However as scientists, one cannot draw hard conclusions (i.e.: Feed your kids pre-cut foods other wise they will be little brats at dinner parties) based off a small sample size in a single, isolated environment:


“Participants of this study were 12 children between 6–10 years of age (8 female) with an average age of 7.7 years and average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 19.40 (SD 4.64). The children were participants in a 4-H summer camp.”


Perhaps the confines on natural behavior and the preplanned instigation by the counselors affected the kid’s behavior.  Just perhaps, kids do not want to be isolated into a 9′ circle on a sunny day when all their friends have already left to play?


“They were asked to stand at the edge of each of the circles (where the two circles met) and to interact with each other. Upon request by the children to leave the circles, the counselors were instructed to tell each child, “No, you will have to wait a few minutes,” and subsequently rate the aggressiveness of each child’s response.”


The methods of rating aggression may also be a bit questionable – these are 10 year old kids on summer vacation after all:


“The two counselors were asked to jointly rate how aggressive each child was (1 = not very aggressive; 9 = aggressive) based on how they asked for permission to leave the circle and how they reacted when told they had to wait.

Aggression was coded based on whether or not children showed aggressive behavior when children were folding the plate (e.g., tearing, smashing). Compliance was coded based on how well children followed the instruction of the counselors. Finally, atypical behavior was coded when children behaved strangely, such as standing on the table and jumping from the chair.”


The authors also draw strong implications off of pilot-type data regarding biting into a piece of meat:

“These findings have implications for situations where young children are eating. For example, school cafeterias may reconsider the types of food they serve if it is known that there are behavioral advantages to serving food in bite-size pieces.

There are also implications to consider for meals in a family context. Since biting food appears to increase activity level, aggression, and noncompliance, it may not be wise to serve young children chicken wings shortly before bedtime, or to serve steak and corn-on-the-cob in the company of dinner guests. Similarly, when eating in public venues, parents could potentially defuse or moderate an active child’s behavior by carefully choosing what and how their child eats. On the other hand, children who need to develop their assertiveness could benefit from eating foods that require biting.”

The authors do discuss limitations in interpreting their data, such as small sample sizes, whether there are differences in biting into a fruit, a pizza, or a sandwich, and if the findings could be attributed to adults. However, the author of the blog  Catherine Paddock (and Ph.D. of???) fails to address how the artificial environment (such as the confinement within a 9 foot circle) and novel stressors (such as not being let out to play at the same time as their friends) that were imposed upon children may have effected their behavior after eating.


The original study was published in Eating Behaviors and be found here.

Jason Cholewa, Ph.D. 

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From → Research Reviews

One Comment
  1. It’s amazing how many people let alone scientists, extrapolate specific conclusions from broad study settings

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