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Despite efforts to acquaint them with the "basic four" food groups, most children classify foods as simply sweet or nonsweet, according to a new study by a researcher from Columbia University's Teachers College.

Isobel Contento, an associate professor of nutrition, interviewed 250 children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old about their food preferences. When she asked 115 children to place 71 foods in groups, all of the children created a category for sweets. Sweets, however, are not mentioned as part of the "basic four" food groups.

The findings, the researcher says, suggest that it would be more realistic to recognize how children classify foods and incorporate that into nutrition curricula. "A nutrition curriculum cannot help children choose foods well if it makes no mention of sweets and junk foods that are so important to them," Ms. Contento says. "Let's recognize that sweets are a distinct group for children, and let's teach them to make choices within that group."

"Inappropriate standards of thin-ness" among teen-age women lower their self-esteem and may also contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder in which victims try to become extremely thin, according to a study by a Stanford University researcher.

According to a study by Sanford M. Dornbusch, normal sexual development makes most teen-age women dissatisfied with their body fatness. The dissatisfaction increases with social class, and the thinner the young woman, the "greater the impact of social class on the desire for thinness," Mr. Dornbusch reports.

Among the higher-income teen-agers who were in the top 10 percent in terms of thinness, one in nine wanted to be thinner. Among thin women from low-income families, only one in 45 wanted to be thinner.

Mr. Dornbusch links his findings with a theory propounded by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who argued that thinness was a sign of elite status. Thin women would be incapable of useful effort, thus indicating that they did not have to work to live. Veblen hypothesized that this "ideal" would diminish when industrialization gave more people more leisure.

"Our results indicate a surprising persistence of the standard that Veblen thought was doomed by industrialization," the researcher reported.

Since 1978, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has supported a variety of programs designed to "find new ways to deal with the negative consequences of teen-age pregnancy, once it occurs and the mother has opted for delivery." In its first effort to disseminate the results of these programs, the foundation has published a special report: "Teen-age Pregnancy: A Critical Family Issue." Although some of the programs have been successful, the report notes, the national situation remains "grim." Copies are available from: Communications Department, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Mott Foundation Building, Flint, Mich., 48502.--sw

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