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Health & Parenting

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Kids' Diets Rarely Mimic Their Parents'

Study Concludes That Children, Particularly Tweens and Teens, Don’t Take Many Food Cues From Mom and Dad

Kids, Parents, and Eating Habits continued...

“It was a weak to moderate association,” says May A. Beydoun, PhD, staff scientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, who co-authored the study.

Beydoun thinks several factors probably contributed to the results.

“It’s possible that there are only one or two shared meals with parents each day, especially if kids are eating at school, and that has an effect, or that parents who are trying to save money are giving their kids different foods than they eat,” Beydoun says, “or because of the increasing influence of marketing that kids are making more of their own food choices.”

The study’s authors also found that children eat more like their parents in other countries, particularly non-European ones. A study in Brazil, for example, found that kids eat like their mothers do about 40% of the time.

Expert Opinions

But other nutrition experts said they were perplexed by the conclusions of the review.

“I’m a little surprised, actually,” says Susan H. Babey, PhD, a research scientist for the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California at Los Angeles. She published a policy brief in 2009 that found that teenagers were more likely to copy either the good or bad nutrition habits of their parents.

“It does make me wonder what’s causing the difference in these findings,” Babey says.

Her paper found, for instance, that adolescents whose parents drink soda daily were 40% more likely to drink it themselves compared to kids whose parents did not drink soda. And children whose parents ate at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables were at least 16% more likely get their recommended amounts, compared to children whose parents didn’t eat at least five servings of those foods.

“Our data suggests, and it’s my own personal belief as a parent that I have some control over what my kids eat. I’m not really sure how to reconcile the two,” she says.

And other experts cautioned that it is very difficult to make any assessments about how kids eat compared to their parents, largely because of the difficulty of getting kids to accurately remember the details of meals and snacks.

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