A new study conducted by researchers at Saint Louis University underscores the important role parents play in modeling healthy eating habits to their preschool aged children.
The researchers worked with more than 1,300 families, and found that young children increased their consumption of fruit and vegetables once their parents did so.
“We know that parents have a tremendous influence over how many fruits and vegetables their children eat,” wrote lead researcher Dr. Debra Haire-Joshu in a statement about the study.
The researchers suggested that providing parents with proper nutritional education might also be helpful in combating the problem of childhood obesity.
In conducting their study, researchers randomly assigned half the parents involved to receive home visits in which they were taught about nutrition and various methods to ensure their children ate plenty of fruits and vegetables. These parents subsequently increased their own intake of fruits and vegetables, and so did their children, the researchers found.
“When parents eat and give their children high fat snacks or soft drinks, children learn these eating patterns instead,” Haire-Joshu said.
However, “when parents eat more fruits and vegetables, so do their children.”
The 1,306 parents who participated in the study were enrolled in Parents As Teachers, a nationwide program that teaches parenting skills through home visits and other activities. Nearly half were also randomly enrolled in the High 5 for Kids program in addition to their standard instruction. These parents received an additional four home visits in which they learned about nutrition and ways to get their children to eat fruits and vegetables. Some of these methods included eating healthy foods in the presence of their children and allowing the kids to choose which fruits and vegetables they most wanted to eat.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that the parents in the High 5 group had not only increased their own fruit and vegetable intake, but their children had followed suit and increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables as well.
The sole exception was among overweight children, who generally did not increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
“Overweight children have already been exposed to salty, sweet foods and learned to like them. To keep a child from becoming overweight, parents need to expose them early to a variety of health foods and offer the foods many times,” said Haire-Joshu.
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