A gutful of lunchbox hype – has selling ‘good bugs not drugs’ for kids’ health gone too far?

Does your child have agut friendly“lunch box? It’s healthy lunch box week, a back-to-school initiative from Nutrition Australia. School lunches are essential for children’s long-term health and well-being, according to some researchers.

there is even media reports that a “gut-friendly” lunch box could help protect us against COVID-19.

Many products are now heavily marketed as promoting gut health. How can parents, caregivers and schools navigate these claims when deciding what children should eat?

What is a gut lunch?

In recent years, microbiome scientists and nutritionists have drawn attention to the interplay between our diet, colony of microbes in our gut (microbiota), and our health. We have gone beyond the simple idea of ​​nutrition and health as “energy in, energy out”. Instead, human gut microbiome research understands our bodies as members and hosts of multispecies communities.

What exactly is the human microbiome?

A gut-friendly diet consists of foods that build a healthy microbiota. Foods with “friendly” or “good” bacteria (yogurt, kimchi, sourdough, and kombucha, for example) are claimed to promote the colony of microbiota in our gut, thereby improving overall health.

The excitement surrounding this research is based on the hope that your gut microbiome may contain the key to counteracting a series of diseases And conditions. Benefits include better heart health, lower risks of diabetes and obesity, and decreased depression and anxiety. Some also claim to have a healthy gut microbiota could help fight COVID and other infectious diseases by stimulating the immune system.

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In this context, it is not surprising the school lunch box it has again been pointed to as a way to help solve current public health challenges.

The ‘gutification’ of food and diets

Much of the microbiomics research is in its early stages. There are gaps in scientific knowledge in this field. Still, the focus on the gut and its relationship to human health is changing our understanding of food, health, and our bodies.

Food corporations have arguably been among the main drivers of food gutification. More and more products are being labeled using the language and concepts of “gut health,” “mood foods,” and “immunity booster.” Children’s yogurts, for example, are marketed using terms like “probiotics,” “immune booster,” and “fortification.”

Manufacturers’ marketing is part of a broader trend to use nutrition science in “Wellness” Industries.

However, some researchers are cautious about specific health claims made by food corporations. Others have expressed concern that the general advice to take probiotics might harm some people, such as those with an overactive immune system.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates products such as fecal microbiota transplants. But food-related claims about gut microbiota and health are poorly regulated. These products often fall through the cracks of medicine and food regulatory and labeling requirements.

Many food products are marketed touting their health-promoting ‘probiotic’ qualities.

Read more:
Boosting your ‘gut health’ sounds great. But this wellness trend is vague and often misunderstood.

Is the ‘immunity-boosting’ lunch box ethical?

The concern about these products is not just a matter of scientific evidence. In the race to commercialize such products (as with other new food technologies, including nanotechnology and biotechnology), the social and ethical dimensions of this flourishing industry have been neglected.

The industry sees the process of properly considering issues such as slowing down innovation. But it is vital to answer these social and ethical questions to ensure that community expectations and standards related to food science and innovation are upheld.

In these times of heightened anxiety about children’s health at school, gut-healthy products can give parents and caregivers a greater sense of control over their children’s health. However, nearly every condition or disease that gut-healthy foods claim to address has complex causes rooted in a myriad of structural factors. Public health researchers call them the social determinants of health.

Obesity, heart disease, and depression are complex conditions. They are shaped by family history, environment, geography, genetics, economics, and education. These factors are beyond the responsibility of individuals and cannot be resolved simply with more probiotics.

lunch box full of healthy food
It can help, but don’t expect a healthy lunch box to be a panacea for complex public health problems.

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Let’s untangle the murky politics around kids and food (and get rid of the blame)

An important concern within public health ethics is when individuals become responsible for social or structural problems. It’s like blaming a person for not using a low-energy light bulb while the the government is supporting new coal mines. Similarly, expecting a school lunch box to protect a child from disease does not make up for inadequate public health infrastructure.

This situation risks putting the onus of managing a global pandemic on individual caregivers (as well as requiring parents and caregivers to navigate scientific claims). It also sends a mixed message to the community about the nature of infectious disease transmission and prevention. In the absence of widespread vaccination, ventilation, masks, and social distancing, “boosted” immunity will not protect children or the community.

The gut microbiome is an exciting new area of ​​research. It opens wide possibilities for individual and public health. But uncritical acceptance of overpromising health claims only serves commercial interests and risks undermining the integrity of science and overburdening people.

As this field develops, the ethical and social dimensions of human gut microbiome research cannot be left behind.

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