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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
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 10, 2010 -- A new study suggests that parents have minimal sway over their children’s diets.

The review, which flouts conventional wisdom and previous research, takes a new look at studies of family eating habits published since 1980 and finds little similarity between the diets of children and their parents.

“This result contradicts other studies,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a professor of nutrition and sociology at New York University, who was not involved in the current research.

Nestle says previous work has found that parents have a good deal of influence over what their kids eat, but that the degree of influence lessens as kids move into their tweens and teens.

“If it’s little kids, parents have plenty of influence. High school? Forget it. Peer pressure is overwhelming,” Nestle says.

Still, she thinks the study, which is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, may have captured an important shift in how children make choices about what to eat.

“It’s certainly true that advertisers have penetrated the consciousness of even very young children, as any parent of a 2-year-old can attest,” Nestle says. “The very purpose of marketing to children is to convince kids that they are supposed to eat ‘kids’ food,’ not what their parents eat, and that they know more about what they are supposed to eat than their parents do. So if this study is correct, they are succeeding.”

Kids, Parents, and Eating Habits

The authors of the new review, who were from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health, combed the scientific literature for studies that assessed the diets of parents and their children from January 1980 through September 2009. Only 24 were deemed to be strong enough to be included.

The reviewers point out that many of the studies were small, which may weaken the statistical power of the results, and that the conclusions of the individual studies varied considerably.

When taken together, though, researchers say it appears that kids eat the same percent of recommended daily calories and fat as their parents only about 20% of the time.

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