Moms Eat Junk Food, Kids Get Fat
Study Shows Rats Fed Junk Food During Pregnancy Have Obesity-Prone Offspring
"This gets to the concept of fetal programming. A lot of information suggests that in-utero exposures can lead to long-lasting effects in children," Cook tells WebMD. "Women who smoke during pregnancy have children who are heavier, so maternal patterns can affect a child's weight. Whether the cause is altered metabolism or something else, it is a very real concern."
On the other hand, Cook says, junk food is made to have tastes and textures that appeal to children. And it's heavily advertised, which also affects a child's preferences.
(Pregnant and the baby's craving junk food? Are you eating well? Come share your cravings at WebMD's Pregnancy: Friends Talking.)
Kids' Junk-Food Program Unplugged
Even if mothers' bad diets really do predispose children to prefer junk food, Cook says, it's still possible to teach them healthy eating habits.
"The more times a toddler tries a food, the more the child will come to accept it," Cook says. "Most kids don't like new foods, but after 12 to 15 tries, they start to accept things. So offer something 15 times before you decide they don't like it."
The key is to offer kids two or three food items at a meal. It does not help to pressure kids to eat things they don't want. It also doesn't help to overpraise them for trying a bite of something new.
"Parents should just offer options, and shift the decision-making to the child," Cook says. "But if parents only put out chicken nuggets and a juice box and say, 'That is all my child will eat,' they aren't working hard enough."
Here's another hint: Kids who are exclusively breastfed -- with no solid foods until they're 6 months old -- tend to consume a lot more different foods than other children.
"That's because through breast milk, they get exposed to the different foods their mothers eat," Cook says.
Bayol and colleagues report their findings in the online issue of the Journal of Physiology.