According to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, early home interventions include teaching parents how to create an environment where children prefer fruits and vegetables to junk food. Providing fruits for snacks and serving vegetables at dinner certainly seems like a good way to start.
"We know that parents have tremendous influence over how many fruits and vegetables their children eat," said Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., a professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work.
"When parents eat more fruits and vegetables, so do their children. When parents eat and give their children high fat snacks or soft drinks, children learn these eating patterns instead," he added.
In the study involving 1,306 parents and children between the ages of two and five participating in Parents As Teachers program in rural southeast Missouri, one group was recruited in the High 5 for Kids program, and the other group received standard visits from Parents as Teachers.
Parent educators then visited the home four times, providing examples of parent-child activities designed around nutrition, such as teaching the child the names and colors of various fruits and vegetables and having the child select a variety of fruits and vegetables for breakfast.
The study showed that parents in the High 5 for Kids group ate significantly more fruits and vegetables, and a change in the parent's servings of fruits and vegetables predicted a change in the child's diet, too.
An increase of one fruit or vegetable serving per day in a parent was associated with an increase of half a fruit or vegetable serving per day in his or her child.
These parents also reported an increase in fruit and vegetable knowledge and availability of fruits and vegetables in the home.
Although the High 5 for Kids program improved fruit and vegetable intake in children of normal weight, overweight children in this group did not eat more of these foods.
"Overweight children have already been exposed to salty, sweet foods and learned to like them," said Haire-Joshu.
"To keep a child from becoming overweight, parents need to expose them early to a variety of healthy foods and offer the foods many times," she added.
The study was published in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.