Parents’ Confidence Helps Reduce Children’s Intake of Unhealthy Food: Study
Fri, December 9, 2022

Parents’ Confidence Helps Reduce Children’s Intake of Unhealthy Food: Study

Parents play an important role in nurturing their children and a part of it is taking care of the children’s basic needs such as food, shelter, and their overall health. Yet, many parents struggle with shaping their children’s eating habits / Photo by: Anton Estrada via 123RF


Parents play an important role in nurturing their children and a part of it is taking care of the children’s basic needs such as food, shelter, and their overall health. Yet, many parents struggle with shaping their children’s eating habits. A trip to the grocery store with the kids often becomes a challenge because while parents want to pick healthy foods for them, kids always prefer the sugary things and junk foods.


Parents’ Role in Helping Kids Eat Healthy Foods

A new study conducted by a team of researchers from Australia revealed that parent’s confidence, planning, and intention can help reduce the children’s intake of unhealthy foods. Lead researcher Brittany J. Johnson from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics shared that parents need to believe that they are capable of making changes in their children’s diet and they should remember that they are the ones in control.

Johnson said that one way of reducing unhealthy food provision to children is to make a plan before going to the supermarket. Avoid heading to the confectionery aisle and be mindful when choosing school snacks. Some may appear appealing and convenient but are jam-packed with salt, sugars, and fat. They also mentioned that unhealthy food consumption is an issue that needs to be addressed in Australia as more than a third of children between four and eight years old are now getting their daily calorie intake from unhealthy foods. People get energy from calories, the reason why food energy is often measured in calories.


Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children

The American Heart Association has recommended that energy in the form of calories should be adequate to support the development and growth of children to maintain or reach a desirable body weight of their age. This will also promote cardiovascular health. The data below is measured in kilocalories per day (kcal/d).

For kids 2 to 3 years old, their calorie requirement will be 1,000 kcal/d but their sedentary lifestyle will also be considered. If they have increased physical activity, additional calories of 0-200 kcal/d will be needed and 200-400 kcal/d if very physically active. They will also be needing 30%-35% fat, 2 cups of milk or dairy as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2 ounces of lean meat and beans, 1 cup of vegetables, and 3 ounces of grains. Half of all the grains need to be whole.

For 4 to 8 years old, the dietary recommendations will be 1,200 kcal/d for girls and 1,400 kcal/d for boys. They will also need 25% to 35% fat and 1.5 cups of fruits (applies to both genders). Then, 3 ounces and 4 ounces of lean meat or beans, 1 cup and 1.5 cups of vegetable, and 4 and 5 ounces of grains for girls and boys, respectively,

For 9 to 13 years old, 1,600 kcal/d and 1,800 kcal/d for female and male, 25% to 35% fat, and 1.5 cups of fruits. They will also be needing 5 ounces of lean meat or beans, 2 cups and 2.5 cups of vegetables, and 5 and 6 ounces of grains for females and males, respectively. Children 14 to 18 years old need 1,800 kcal/d for females and 2,200 kcal/d.

The body will use these calories to operate, like to keep the lungs breathing and the heart beating. The calories and nutrients will be used by the body to develop and grow.

Parental Motivation

In the Australian study, Johnson and the team wrote that motivation is another factor of behavioral change in children. This is why they assessed the behaviors and motivations of 495 parents. The result showed that only 50% of them intend to lessen their children’s intake of unhealthy foods. The researchers referred to it as a “knowledge-behavior gap” that can be improved by simply boosting the parents’ planning, intention, and confidence.

When it comes to the family pantry, it is the parents that hold the purse strings or are in control of the way the money is spent. The imbalance of unhealthy and healthy foods in the kids’ diet contributes to the increasing number of childhood obesity, the team added. One in four Australians aged 2 to 17 is overweight. Childhood obesity currently affects 340 million children and adolescents too aged 5 to 19.

Childhood obesity: statistics

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shared information on the countries with the highest share of children who are overweight in 2016. These included Zambia (35.94%), Chile (44.66%), Venezuela (37.56%), Libya (43.96%), Saudi Arabia (49.71%), Malaysia (35.41%), Equatorial Guinea (55.4%), Iceland (36.13%), Micronesia (41.88%), and Costa Rica (37.49%).

On the other hand, countries with the lowest share of children who are overweight in the same period are Bangladesh (4.69%), Cambodia (4.35%), North Korea (1.74%), Haiti (8.41%), Philippines (9.9%), Niger (7.52%), Chad (9.44%), Pakistan (6.25%), Eritrea (7.67%), Nepal (5.44%), and Laos (7.77%).


Energy Surplus: A Driver of Obesity

People gain weight if they consume more energy (measured in kilocalories) than the expended energy necessary to carry out daily activities and life in general. This is referred to as the energy surplus. The World Health Organization has also recognized that childhood obesity is “one of the most serious public health challenges” in the 21st century. It affects many middle- and low-income countries, especially those in urban settings. This is alarming because obese and overweight children are most likely to stay obese as they reach adulthood, leading to noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes at a younger age.

The WHO’s general recommendation to fight childhood obesity is to increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits as well as nuts, whole grains, and legumes. It also advised to limit energy intake and stay away from saturated fats. Instead, shift fat consumption to unsaturated fats. Children should also limit their intake of sugars and be physically active.

Most parents nowadays do understand that they should provide healthy food for their kids, but the reality of different food preferences, kids’ activities, and their work schedules are making meal preparation a challenge. One way to make it fun is to allow the children to help in meal planning and food preparation. Parents should also be reminded that they have such a great influence on their children’s behavior. If they are unsure of how to prepare and select a variety of foods for the family, asking for the help of a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling would be great.