MORE than a third of children under six fail to eat fruit and vegetables on a daily basis according to a new report1 by Cancer Research UK.
And the amount of broccoli and bananas consumed by children is directly related to their parents’ eating habits according to a study of more than 550 nursery school pupils.
Scientists found that the more often parents ate fruit and vegetables, the more likely it was that their children would have a correspondingly high intake.
Better educated parents had children who ate vegetables more often and the earlier a child was introduced to these foods the more frequent their intake, according to the study.
The World Health Organisation recommends adults to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day as the health benefits of such a diet include a reduced risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
Children are also recommended to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day although the portions may be smaller for younger children.
The report, led by Lucy Cooke at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Unit at University College, London, also showed that children who had been breast fed as babies ate vegetables and fruit more often than bottle-fed babies.
Questionnaires were sent to 22 nursery schools in North London and parents were asked questions including whether the children in the family ate the same food as the grown-ups, whether the family ate at the same time and in the same place.
Researchers found that family mealtimes were associated with more frequent intake of vegetables though not of fruit.
Lucy Cooke says: “The most influential aspect of a young child’s environment is likely to be the family and the eating habits of parents are very important.
“Research has suggested that parents can influence their children’s eating habits by controlling mealtime routines. Regular family meals are related to healthier dietary patterns and a higher intake of fruit and vegetables in older children.
“Our study underlines the potential importance of parents’ own eating habits in encouraging their children to eat a healthy diet.”
Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical and External Affairs, says: “This research is particularly valuable in that it clearly shows what a key role parents play in influencing their children’s eating habits. If the grown-ups opt for fast food TV dinners they can’t expect the children to relish regular helpings of fruit and vegetables.”
- Public Health Nutrition7 (2)