Parents have ‘weak’ influence on children’s diets: Study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Parents may have less influence on their children’s eating habits than commonly believed, according to new research published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that the dietary habits picked up by children and adolescents may carry on into adulthood, and one of the primary areas of focus for promoting healthy eating early in life has been in educating parents about their own health and nutrition, as well as that of their children.

But the study’s authors, Youfa Wang and May Beydoun from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that the link between parents’ and children’s eating habits is weak.

The researchers used US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data from the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and assessed and compared the quality of participating children’s and parents’ diets based on the USDA 2005 Health Eating Index (HEI). The sample consisted of 1061 fathers, 1230 mothers, 1370 sons and 1322 daughters.

Wang said: “Child-parent dietary resemblance in the US 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…Our findings indicate that factors other than family and parental eating behaviors may play an important role in affecting American children's dietary intakes."

Environmental factors

They recommended that future studies should focus on the role of other factors such as peer pressure to determine their influence children’s dietary habits.

Beydoun said: “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.”

Whether or not parents have a significant impact on their children’s diet, a recent survey from Mintel found that parents do feel responsible for their children’s weight. Seventy-eight percent of parents surveyed said they felt to blame if their child was overweight. Ninety-five percent of parents surveyed said they thought discussing healthy eating with their children was very or somewhat important, but only 82 percent said they felt very or somewhat successful in doing so.

Source: Social Science and Medicine

2009, pp. 1-8, doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.03.029

Parent–child dietary intake resemblance in the United States: Evidence from a large representative survey

Authors: Wang, Y. and Beydoun, M.A.

Related topics R&D

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