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Parents can teach kids to eat fruits, vegetables

world Updated: Aug 12, 2008 14:51 IST

IANS
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Researchers are studying ways of getting pre-schoolers to eat more fruits and vegetables and combat increasing problem of childhood obesity.

According to Washington University researchers, a beginning can be made by teaching parents how to create an environment where children seek a banana instead of potato chips.

"We know that parents have tremendous influence over how many fruits and vegetables their children eat," said Debra Haire-Joshu, a professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work.

"When parents eat more fruits and vegetables, so do their children. When parents eat and give their children high fat snacks or soft drinks, children learn these eating patterns instead," she added.

Haire-Joshu and researchers at Saint Louis University School of Public Health tested a programme that taught parents how to provide pre-school children easy access to more fruits and vegetables and examined whether changes in what the parents ate affected what their children consumed.

"This research shows that it's important to communicate with parents in real world settings," Haire-Joshu says. "They control the food environment for their young child. This environment is key to not only what children eat today but how they will eat in the future."

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.

Past research has shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with a lower risk of obesity. Previous studies also have established that children learn to like and eat vegetables at a young age - before they turn five years old.

In this five-year study in rural, southeast Missouri, 1,306 parents and children between the ages of two and five participating in Parents As Teachers, a national parent education programme, were randomly assigned to two groups.

One group enrolled in the High 5 for Kids programme, and the other group received standard visits from Parents as Teachers. In the High 5 for Kids group, parents first completed a pre-test interview about fruit and vegetable consumption.

Parent educators then visited the home four times, providing examples of parent-child activities designed around nutrition, such as teaching the child the names and colours of various fruits and vegetables and having the child select a variety of fruits and vegetables for breakfast.

Parents in the High 5 for Kids group ate significantly more fruits and vegetables, and a change in the parent's servings of fruits and vegetables predicted a change in the child's diet too.

Although the High 5 for Kids programme was effective in improving fruit and vegetable intake in children of normal weight, overweight children in this group did not eat more of these foods. "Overweight children have already been exposed to salty, sweet foods and learned to like them," said Haire-Joshu, a professor at the School of Medicine.