Parents should teach good eating habits by example

January 15, 2002 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Weight Management

Parents should teach good eating habits by example

Parents who practice what they preach in terms of good eating habits may be more likely to have children who also eat well than parents who encourage their children to eat well but do not lead by example.

Researchers from the US Department of Agriculture Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas measured the fruit and vegetable intake of 191 five-year-old girls and their parents. They also used a questionnaire to evaluate the extent of pressure the parents used to encourage their daughters to eat more.

Overall, most of the girls ate three or fewer servings of fruits and vegetables a day, in contrast to the recommended five daily servings, while their parents reported eating only about one serving of fruits and vegetables each day. Furthermore, the children's eating patterns seemed to mimic their parents. For example, children who ate more fruits and vegetables had parents who reported eating more fruits and vegetables.

Parents who ate the smallest amount of fruits and vegetables, however, tended to report using greater pressure to encourage their child to eat more. This pressure did not seem to have the intended effect. Girls who were greatly pressured to eat more ate about 1.6 fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than their less pressured peers, and also consumed less vitamin A and folate.

"This finding suggests that pressuring children to eat fruits and vegetables is not effective and may, in fact, discourage children from wanting to eat those foods. In contrast, parents who ate high amounts of fruits and vegetables and used little pressure reportedly had daughters who ate the highest number of combined fruit and vegetable servings.

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