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Parents’ Choice of Food Influences That of Children

by Dr. Simi Paknikar on  December 13, 2011 at 6:03 PM Health In Focus   - G J E 4
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Children learn a great deal from the habits of adults around them. This includes food patterns, according to a recent study.  The diet of adults in a family often influences the food intake of children in terms of type and amount of food.
Parents’ Choice of Food Influences That of Children
Parents’ Choice of Food Influences That of Children

A healthy diet is associated with promoting health and preventing diseases.   Junk foods are one of the leading causes of obesity, especially in children.

A number of factors have been found to influence a child's diet and eating pattern.  These include genetic taste preferences, parents' level of education and socioeconomic status, family structure and familial issues. 

A study was conducted in the United States to find out if the food and nutrition intake of parents or household heads are associated with those of children in the same household.  The researchers also tried to find out if the food and nutrition intake of a child is adequate if the father/ mother/ household head's intake is adequate.  They also evaluated whether the child tends to eat excessively at an occasion in which the parents eat excessively.  The eating occasions were characterized as breakfast, brunch/lunch, supper/dinner, and other, food/beverage.

Households with children between the ages of 2 and 18 years were included in the study.  For the purpose of evaluation, the children were divided into 3 groups:  preschoolers (2-5 year olds), school-age (6-11 year olds), and teenagers (12-18 year olds).  Only 1 child was included per household.  Thus, a total of 2380 children were included in the study, of which 708 were in the preschoolers group, 836 in the school-age group and 836 in the teenagers group.

Information regarding diet was collected from the family in case of younger children and from the children themselves in case of the older ones.  The nutrition value of the food was calculated.

The study found that a child's diet is slightly to moderately influenced by the diet of the female household head.  This is particularly true for intake of meat in preschool children.  The influence was slightly stronger for younger children as compared to teenagers.  Teenagers come in contact with people outside their homes and tend to get influenced by them. 

The males in the household also influenced the dietary practices in children.  The intake of fruits in preschool children was particularly influenced by their intake in male household members. Thus, if the father prefers a fruit as a snack, it is likely that the child may also go in for a similar snack.

The total amount of food intake in children was likely to meet the recommendations if the intake in adults neared their recommendations.  This was true for most types of nutrients and foods including fruits and vegetables.

Also, children are likely to eat extra on occasions when they observe their parents eating extra.

Thus, we see that diet of parents or other adults in a household influences the choice as well as the amount of food taken in by a child, especially in a younger child.  Children are likely to observe the diet of the adults, even if the food is not taken at the same time.  Even what the men in the household eat influences the diet of the child.  Thus, if the child's food habits have to change, it is important to change the adult's diet to a healthier one

Reference:

Zuercher JL, Wagstaff DA, Kranz S.  Associations of food group and nutrient intake, diet quality, and meal sizes between adults and children in the same household: a cross-sectional analysis of U.S. households.  Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:131 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-131

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