May 30, 2009
Parents’ Influence In Children’s Eating Habits Is Small
The popular belief that healthy eating starts at home and that parents' dietary choices help children establish their nutritional beliefs and behaviors may need rethinking, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. An examination of dietary intakes and patterns among U.S. families found that the resemblance between children's and their parents' eating habits is weak. The results are published in the May 25, 2009, issue of Social Science and Medicine.
"Child-parent dietary resemblance in the U.S. is relatively weak, and varies by nutrients and food groups and by the types of parent-child dyads and social demographic characteristics such as age, gender and family income," said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Center for Human Nutrition. "When looking at overall diet quality, parent-child correlation in healthy eating index score was similar for both younger and older children. To our knowledge, this is the first such study that examined the similarities between children's and their parents' dietary intakes in the United States based on nationally representative data. Our findings indicate that factors other than family and parental eating behaviors may play an important role in affecting American children's dietary intakes."
"Factors other than parental eating behaviors such as community and school, food environment, peer influence, television viewing, as well as individual factors such as self-image and self-esteem seem to play an important role in young people's dietary intake," said May A. Beydoun, PhD, co-author of the study and a former postdoctoral research fellow at the Bloomberg School.
"Our findings have a number of important public health implications. In particular, the overall weak to moderate parent-child resemblance in food groups, nutrients and healthy eating index scores suggest that interventions targeting parents could have only a moderate effect on improving their children's diet. Nevertheless, based on our findings stratified by population groups, for interventions targeting parents, those would be more effective when targeted at mothers, minority groups, and as early as possible in childhood. We suspect that the child-parent resemblance in dietary intake may have become weaker over time, due to the growing influence of other factors outside of the family," said Wang.
"Parent-child dietary intake resemblance in the United States: Evidence from a large representative survey" was written by May A. Beydoun and Youfa Wang.
The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
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