Parents Shape the Dietary Habits of Children

Providing fruits for snacks and serving vegetables at dinner can shape a preschooler’s eating patterns for his or her lifetime.
To counter the growing problem of childhood obesity, researchers are trying to work out ways in which to encourage preschoolers to consume more fruit and vegetables. Washington University researchers in St. Louis have found that a key way in for parents to create an environment where children opt for a fruit rather than crisps.
Should parents encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables, children follow. On the other hand, should parents offer children high fat snacks and soft drinks, children will follow that trend.
The food environment of a child is controlled by the parents, hence, of course they play a crucial role in their dietary intake.
A five-year study in Missouri of 1,306 parents of children aged two and five, were divided into two groups. One group participated in the High 5 for Kids programme, whereas, the other group received standard visits from Parents as Teachers. In the High 5 for Kids group, parents first completed a pretest interview about fruit and vegetable consumption.
Parent educators visited the first group’s home four times, giving the parents ideas about activities around nutrition, for example, teaching the child names and colors of different fruit and vegetables and getting the child to choose a selection of fruit and vegetables for breakfast. During each visit, parents received information regarding improvements in feeding practices and the home food environment. Many of these materials were tailored to suit the patterns of that specific parent, with suggestions as to how he/she could improve dietary intake and that of the child.
Moreover, children were provided with four High 5 for Kids sing-along-stories, as well as audiocassettes and colouring books .
Those parents were then interviewed before and after that to find out the changes in the number of fruits and vegetables consumed and the behavior of the preschool child and the parent. The time between the before and after intervention survey was approximately seven months.
Parents in the High 5 for Kids group had started eating many more fruits and vegetables, as had their children. A daily increase of one fruit or vegetable serving for a parent was complemented by a daily increase of half a fruit or vegetable serving in his/her child. In addition, these parents reported an increase in knowledge of about fruit and vegetables as well their availability in their home.
This High 5 for Kids programme proved effective in improving fruit and vegetable intake in normal weight children. However, overweight children did not start to eat any more fruit or vegetables as they had been exposed to very sweet or salty foods and had grown to like them instead.
To combat childhood obesity it is vital to introduce children early to fresh fruit and vegetables.

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