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Issue 72: Who Influences Your Kids' Eating?

The widely accepted notion that parents are the strongest influence on their kids’ diet and eating patterns may not be so, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health.

The study, which was published in Social Science and Medicine looked at dietary intake and patterns in U.S. families and didn’t find as much similarity between parents’ and children’s eating habits as expected.

That may be a disturbing study outcome, but what is even more unsettling, perhaps, is the idea that dietary interventions that target only a kid’s parents might not be as useful as previously thought for improving children’s diets.

Here is what they found.

The results indicated that only about 10% of the children’s diet could be explained by their parents’ diet, while a full 90% of the children’s diet was explained by factors other than the parents’ diet. The researchers also noted that they believe that the “child-parent resemblance in dietary intake may have become weaker over time, due to the growing influence of other factors outside of the family.”

So…what might those factors be? They were listed as community and school, food environment, peer influence, television viewing as well as individual factors such as self-image and self-esteem. Those are the greatest influencers of our children’s diets.

If that’s the case, though, then our kids may be in trouble—especially when you consider that a whopping 91% of kid food television ads are for unhealthy snacks and foods high in added sugars, total fat content, sodium and in trans fats.

The truth is that the media just can’t be trusted to give healthy dietary guidance to our kids.

Researchers for the April 2008 report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association say that they “found wide discrepancies between what health experts recommend children eat and what marketing promotes as desirable to eat.”

Wide discrepancies, huh?

Interestingly, in 2005 these same researchers found  that every single ad for snack foods, candy, restaurants, beverages and breakfast pastries promoted high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt or low-nutrient products—ads that made up 63% of food ads aimed at kids.

All is not lost, however, since there is still a glimmer of hope for parents who want to make a difference in their kids’ diets. The researchers found that of those parents who ate a healthier diet—which was a small minority—their children were three times more likely to have a healthy diet compared to kids whose parents did not have a very healthy diet.

Maybe it’s time to take back a parental prerogative: deciding what your kids will eat.

One thing’s for sure. We don’t want the media to make that decision for us.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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