According to a new study out of St. Michael's Hospital, how kids eat their food may turn out to be just as important as what they eat.
The study, led by Dr. Nav Persaud, a family physician, found a significant association between poor eating habits in kids ages three to five and their levels of non-HDL - or "bad" - cholesterol, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.
The paper appeared online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal
"We know that eating behaviours are an important determinant of health in adults and adolescents, but this is the first time pre-school age children have been looked at to see if their eating habits are affecting their health as well," said Dr. Persaud.
Poor eating behaviours included eating while watch TV, snacking on junk food between meals and allowing kids to decide for themselves when they wanted to eat.
The study looked at data from more than 1,000 preschoolers who were recruited through TARGet Kids!, a collaboration between children's doctors and researchers from St. Michael's Hospital, the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. The program follows children from birth with the aim of understanding and preventing common nutrition problems in the early years and their impact on health and disease later in life.
Parents filled out questionnaires assessing their child's eating behaviours, and researchers looked at the child's height, weight and fat profile in their blood. They assigned risk based on ethnicity of the parents, as some groups are more prone to heart disease than others.
"There are a lot of interventions focused on what children are eating," Dr. Persaud said. "But it's also very important we focus on eating behaviours because how a child is eating can affect the quantity and quality of food being eaten as well."
Dr. Persaud said if a child is watching TV while eating, they are less likely to notice natural cues telling them when they are full, and are more likely to eat an unbalanced meal.
"Discovering this link early in life is important because the behaviour is still largely changeable," Dr. Persaud said. "It gives us an opportunity to prevent disease and screen for behavioural interventions."