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Who Influences Kids' Eating Habits?

Study Shows Only a Weak Resemblance Between the Eating Habits of Parents and Children
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 4, 2009 -- The widely held belief that kids learn eating habits from their parents may not be true, according to new research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health.

A study, published in Social Science and Medicine, examined the dietary intake and patterns of U.S. families and found a weak resemblance between the eating habits of parents and children.

“Our findings indicate that factors other than family and parental eating behaviors may play an important role in affecting American children’s dietary intakes,” Youfa Wang, senior author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s Center for Human Nutrition, says in a written statement.

Researchers used data from 7,331 adults who participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, a nationally representative survey of people between 1994 and 1996. Children of the adult participants were also included in this study.

Diets were evaluated after participants answered two questionnaires about what they had consumed during the past 24 hours. Each participant was assigned a healthy diet score, figured out based on the USDA 2005 Health Eating Index and other measures.

Correlations between parents and children were weak. Parental education and household income did not have much of an effect on dietary resemblance.

“We suspect 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,” Wang says in a written statement.

The public health takeaway is that interventions targeting solely parents might not be as useful as previously thought for improving children’s diets.

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