Parents' Example Vital in
Children's Eating Habits
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON - The parents of children who aren't eating the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables a day may not be setting them a good example, according to new research published on Sunday.
Youngsters have innate likes and dislikes and can be incredibly stubborn about what they will and will not eat, but a study of the behavioral aspects of their eating habits showed parental example has a major influence.
"Parental consumption was the strongest predictor of children's consumption," Lucy Cooke, a psychologist at University College London, said in an interview.
"Setting an example is tremendously influential."
The World Health Organization recommends eating five portions of fruits and vegetables to stay healthy and avoid illnesses such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But Cooke, who sent questionnaires to parents of children in 22 nursery schools in Northern England to get an idea of what influences the eating habits of two to six-year olds, said more than a third weren't eating enough healthy foods.
What the parents consumed was the biggest influence on children's diets but eating together as a family, breast feeding and introducing a variety of fruits and vegetables early were also important factors.
"Parents really need to be aware that they can't eat unhealthily themselves and expect to get the (eat healthy) message over to their children. They have to set a good example. They have to make healthy food available to their children," said Cooke.
The study, which was reported in the journal Public Health Nutrition, also revealed that babies who had been breast fed ate fruits and vegetables more often than bottle-fed babies.
"Formula milk is a uniform taste," Cooke explained. "Breast milk takes on the flavour of the food the mother eats so children get exposed from a very early age to a variety of tastes and this seems to make them more open to different tastes later on."
Cooke stressed that children will not automatically eat the same foods as their parents but it helps if they see adults and older siblings eating and enjoying nutritious meals.
"Eating together as a family is a really good thing, and parents being vocal about how much they like healthy foods because children are programmed to imitate their parents in many ways," she added.
Source: Yahoo News: Reuters Health.
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