Is “healthy” the right word to use?

I received an email recently Helen Seagle, Clinical Nutrition Manager, Children’s Hospital Colorado in which she raises a question that’s really got me thinking.

Helen questions  how we all liberally use the term “healthy” in kids material.

   Healthy food, healthy choices, health snacks…..

She asks – “does healthiness equal “nutritiousness”?  Unless something is toxic can’t it contribute to nutrition.

I looked through the KidsCount Survey and we use the word “healthy” throughout.



Any thoughts on this?

Are any of you trying to use alternate ways to talk about …”healthy”?



2 replies
  1. Charles Platkin, PhD
    Charles Platkin, PhD says:

    I don’t think we have a very clear definition of healthy, it’s more of a sliding scale and used differently depending on need. For instance, when we were trying to define a healthy affordable grocery store definition, we talk about fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and meat and poultry. When we talk about the term healthy in terms of food labeling, here is the definition : When it comes to children, that term can be very confusing. Just take a look @ this article I wrote on how the NYC DOE describes healthy in their subway ads: . I think instead of using terms like healthy w/o definition, it should be defined, but that could take forever (and 1000s of committees) or be descriptive and relative.. For example, “eat healthier foods such as organic fruits and vegetables.” Again, this is not only answer, but suggestion.

  2. Helen Seagle
    Helen Seagle says:

    Thanks for discussing this!
    Here’s where I really struggle — ‘healthy’ in relation to food is said over and over to a child especially for a child whose parents are struggling with changing the child’s food choices. Teachers tell kids to bring healthy snacks and only healthy food should be in there lunchbox. Parents tell kids they should eat vegetables because they are healthy and good for them. However, recent research (still looking for the link!) has indicated that the label of ‘healthy’ makes a child less likely to choose a food. And no wonder! Have you ever heard how a frustrated parent talks to their child when that child refuses to even have a vegetable on the plate? Not pretty… and in the midst of the admonishment ‘healthy’ is sprinkled liberally. I tell parents to talk less and do more (serve the veggie, eat the veggie themselves, ignore the whining, praise when the veggie is touched, licked etc even when it is spit out). I don’t want ‘healthy’ to be the word that kids dread because they associate with punishment. I like Brian Wansink’s work regarding ‘branding’ veggies to encourage consumption ( However that is difficult to do in handouts that I’m trying to keep short and sweet. I would appreciate any thoughts!


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