Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids

Healthy eating habits of parents can positively influence children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The phrase "monkey see, monkey do" may hold a lot of truth when it comes to what you eat in front of your kids. Parents are typically responsible for buying and preparing the food in a household, so their eating habits can have a big impact on their children.

A recent study found that when parents were trained to have healthier eating habits, their children's eating habits also became healthier.

Based on these findings, it may be safe to say that children are paying a lot of attention to what their parents eat.

"Model healthy eating habits for your kids."

This study was led by Laura McGowan, PhD, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College in London. The research team looked to see how an intervention to help parents form healthier eating habits affected their future eating habits as well as their children's.

This study included 126 parents of children between the ages of 2 and 6. One group of parents was trained to form three healthy eating habits — serving fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks and unsweetened drinks — while another group received no training.

During the eight-week training, the researchers made a total of four one-hour long visits to a family's home. During these visits, the researchers and parents worked through a booklet that went over developing healthy habits and tips on how to form those habits. In the booklet, there were sections to help parents form each of the three healthy habits.

The researchers also gave parents practical advice on how to form each habit. At the end of each visit, parents came up with a goal related to one of the three habits, set a time for when they would like to start making changes and discussed barriers to forming that habit and ways to overcome those barriers.

After the eight-week training was complete, the researchers looked at how automatically parents were able to perform the three behaviors and to see whether children's food intake changed.

The researchers found parents who had received the training reported they could more automatically perform all three behaviors than parents who were not trained.

The researchers also found the children of parents who received the training consumed significantly more vegetables, healthy snacks and unsweetened drinks than the children of parents who were not trained.

Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition and preventive medicine expert not associated with the study, told dailyRx News, "It's very nice to know that such simple interventions can have a positive effect on parental behavior and children's food intake, lasting at least 8 weeks. Unfortunately, this is a small amount of time in the lifetime of a child, so we would like to see more lasting interventions that keep the parents engaged and influenced, and keep the children's meals healthy, for a long period of time."

Dr. Gordon suggested, "Parents who want to make the switch to healthier habits might take one of several possible actions. Involvement in a local farm to school program has been shown to increase children's vegetable consumption, so starting or assisting a local program would be good.

"Certain websites also address certain family concerns, whether they be budgetary or time constraints. One possibility is, that helps with menus and meal planning," she said. "Finally, seeking out a local chapter of the Weston Price Foundation through their website enables parents to meet other people living near them who are also interested in feeding their children healthy food."

The findings from this study highlight the importance of parents modeling healthy eating habits for their kids. As the study authors noted, since childhood eating habits often carry over into adulthood, setting a good example for children now could reduce their risk for unhealthy eating habits later.

This study was published on July 17 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 19, 2013
Last Updated:
July 26, 2013