Many Parents Don't Promote Healthful Eating in Children

If you know healthful eating is important for your kids but you also feel like it's easier said than done, you're not alone.

Nearly all parents agree with the importance of healthful diets during childhood, according to a new national poll. But when it comes to their own homes, only one-third of parents of children ages 4–18 are confident they're doing a good job shaping their children's eating habits.

While a little more than one-half of parents polled believe their children eat mostly healthfully, only one in six rate their children's diets as very nutritious, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. Meanwhile, about one-fourth of parents say their child's eating is somewhat or not healthful at all.

Common challenges get in the way: price, picky eaters, and convenience.

"Most parents understand that they should provide healthy food for their children, but the reality of work schedules, children's activities and different food preferences can make meal preparation a hectic and frustrating experience," says poll codirector Sarah Clark, MPH.

"The tension between buying foods children like and buying foods that are healthy can be an ongoing struggle. Many of us know the feeling of spending time and money on a healthy meal only to have our children grimace at the sight of it and not take a single bite."

Most parents polled agree it's important to promote a healthful diet for their children. Still, one in five don't think it's important to limit fast food and junk food in their child's diet. Another 16% believe it's somewhat or not important to limit sugary drinks.

In general, parents of teens were less worried about unhealthful eating habits compared to parents of younger children.

"It can be easy to slip into more convenient habits that seem less stressful and less expensive. But if occasional fast food or junk food becomes the norm, it will be even more difficult to promote healthy habits for kids as they grow up," Clark says.

"Many convenience foods are high in sugar, fat, and calories, and overconsumption of fast food can cause childhood obesity and other health problems."

Another hurdle: the often overwhelming quest to shop healthfully. Nearly one-half of parents polled admit that it's difficult to tell which foods are actually good for them. Phrases such as all-natural, low-fat, organic, and sugar-free are used inconsistently on food labels and packaging and can be confusing for shoppers.

Additionally, about one in four parents say healthful foods aren't available where they shop, a challenge that's more prominent among parents with lower education and income levels.

"Most parents want their children to eat as healthy as possible but may need help making that happen," Clark says. "Some parents need help with shopping, meal preparation, or other household chores so that mealtimes are not so hectic. Others would benefit from easy-to-understand information on how to identify packaged foods that are healthy, ideas on how to make kid-friendly recipes a little healthier, and practical suggestions on convincing picky eaters to try a more balanced diet."

This report is based on responses from 1,767 parents who had at least one child aged 4–18 years.

The full Mott Poll report is available here:

— Source: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan