Study: Parents' Diet Doesn't Influence Kids

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/19/2009 10:15 AM   :  271 comments

I've always worked hard to set a good example for my kids when it comes to food choices. I try to make fruits and vegetables a staple in our diet and prepare meals that are generally healthy. But a new study says my hard work might not payoff, because kids aren't paying attention to the example their parents are setting.

A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine looked at a sample of adults and their children, ages 2 to 18. Researchers used questionnaires to track their eating habits and found little resemblance between the calorie and nutrient consumption of the parents and children.

Older children were the least likely to have a diet resembling their parents, which isn't surprising. The older kids get, the more they are influenced by peers, what they see on T.V. and other outside sources. The children's' diet did resemble their mothers more than fathers, but family income and parental education did not have an effect on the results.

I'd be interested to see a breakdown of these results by age group. I'm not surprised at the results for older children, but I would think the responses for younger children would be much different. My daughter is 2 and I basically control everything she eats, since she's a little young to cook for herself. I also think that if you show kids that food can be healthy but still taste good, they learn from that. Eventually she's going to have the freedom to decide if she wants a McDonald's Big Mac for dinner. My hope is that she'll know that it's OK to enjoy those kinds of things now and then if she wants them, but that normally she'd make healthier choices--and that's because of the example I will always set for her. Am I being overly optimistic?

So I'm a little skeptical about these results. What do you think? Do you feel like your example affects the food choices your children make?


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Comments

  • 271
    I think it makes a huge difference. I am in the medical field and a lot of the overweight
    children who come in have overweight parents. Lifestyle seems to beget lifestyle...if
    children grow up with parents who eat right and exercise;they seem to fall into the
    same pattern. But you can't be nuts about it-there's room for treats in that healthy
    lifestyle! - 2/22/2013   6:13:10 AM
  • 270
    I think more is involved than just eating. For instance, eating together and discussing why you make the choices that you do. All 4 of my now adult children are aware, and attempt to eat a healthy diet. - 3/24/2012   7:35:21 AM
  • 269
    I think parents eating habits have a huge impact on our kids. As you said, we control what our toddlers and grade schoolers eat. Those are the years that really help shape their long term food choices and how they will view the role of food, healthy or not, in their lives. Sure, as they age and eat lunch at school and then other meals as they grow up more, they will probably not always eat the healthiest. But long term, we as parents are establishing that mindset about food/healthy choices at an early age and if we are setting a good example and serving healthy foods, it will be with them as they grow up. They will have much better odds of being healthy adults than kids who grow up eating junk and seeing their folks eat junk! Plus, for all those teenagers anyway, aren't the parents doing the grocery shopping and supplying the home food choices that way too?!?! - 2/13/2012   7:01:26 AM
  • CORINNEMOMMY
    268
    Highly skeptical of these results. I think we all know how nutrition tracking can go...I had to map out what I was going to eat and then go back in the evenings to make sure I stayed on track, I still think I miss something that I ate... - 12/6/2011   6:37:45 AM
  • 267
    They are children. They are not capable of making practical choices all the time, that is why we are parents. It is our duty to make sure they are eating correctly. I believe that for this study to be more accurate they would have to test grown ups eating habits with their parents. - 11/11/2011   12:52:13 PM
  • MERWAK
    266
    I bet that's true initially with the ages cited, however, what about in their late 20's and early 30's when they are perhaps a little older and raising their own children? I bet how I eat now resembles how I was fed & how my parents ate... - 10/19/2011   3:27:45 PM
  • 265
    @FRANCLYN, You may be right on that. Attitudes about food are just and influential as the choices made. I've made comments that we don't eat at one of the kids' favorite restaurants very often (if at all) anymore because it is not very healthy. The kids (5, 4, and 2) hear me say this and when one asks if we can go there, another will say "No, Its not healthy." And I believe that they mean it when they say it too. - 2/22/2011   5:18:41 PM
  • 264
    I know its tough to get kids to eat healthy but I think that forcing them to eat things they hate can have the adverse effect. The biggest help in getting kids to eat healthy is letting them make choices, take them shopping if possible or plan menus at home. When given the option of strawberries or blue berries, cucumbers or tomatoes for the salad they are more willing to try new things when they feel some sense of control. When they help with meal preparations, even if it's just once a week, they are proud to not only be able to share what they made but are happy to try it out. Sounds simple but it does work as long as you present choices in which you are not trying to sway them one way or the other but are honestly ok with either choice. - 2/21/2011   7:05:07 PM
  • 263
    I'd like to see the study authors take another look at those same families and look not just at what the parents eat, but how they treat it. Two sets of parents could have identical, healthy diets but if one set approaches it as "I eat this because it's good for me. I have to do this" and the other set approaches it as "I like eating this. I feel better and can do more when I eat like this" I'm betting it would have a different effect on the kids. The fact that a kid's diet is different from their parents does NOT mean their parents' choices did not affect them. It may say something as to HOW it affected them. - 2/18/2011   5:54:11 PM
  • 262
    Of course they learn from you their eating habits. Monkey see Monkey do! Do as I say not as I do.... gee the list goes on and on. These sayings did not just materialize from nowhere! - 1/26/2011   9:04:27 AM
  • 261
    not sure what to think.I 'm hoping that I'm setting a good example by giving my kids healtly variety of choises .They love Broccoli,Califlower..and other veggies and fruit as well.
    but it makes me worry that when they could make the decision on their own they would take Mcdonald!! - 1/25/2011   2:44:13 PM
  • 260
    I think parents have a huge impact on what and how much their kids eat. Common sense tells me the impact can be either negative or positive, depending on the example we set for them and the foods we buy or don't buy. - 12/5/2010   4:58:59 PM
  • BEVINK
    259
    For as long as I can remember, meals at my parents' house were: glass of milk, veggie, carb, meat. My father always made us eat our vegetables first & our meat last -- we were such carnivorous children that the meat was the "reward" for eating our whole meal. The answer to "I'm hungry" was always "Have a piece of fruit" and there were sweets in our house only for birthdays & holidays.
    This was too extreme. When I left home & started taking care of myself, I went crazy on junk food & candy; chips were a valid supper choice; the answer to "I'm hungry" was that I could eat whatever I wanted. There was a year where I drank nothing but Diet Coke. This was also the year I came home from university with rickets from eating so poorly.
    Now I'm aiming to be somewhere between where I grew up & when I first moved out. I weigh out my snack foods so I don't accidentally have chips for supper any more. If I have children, I want to teach them this in between approach to food, so they don't have that massive shock to the system when they can make their own food choices. - 12/1/2010   2:49:28 PM
  • REBECCAMA
    258
    My 4 year old eats what she wants to eat. She doesn't copy me or my husband. She won't touch a green bean anymore to save her life, but she loves strawberries and eats more than I ever could. My key has always been to make sure she has lots of healthy choices. I buy pears even though I don't eat them because I know she will eat them if she's offered. - 9/8/2010   4:49:30 PM
  • 257
    I honestly believe children mimic their parents. We don't normally eat fast food, but if we need to "eat on the run" we often choose Subway and my 13 year old daughter chooses the honey wheat grilled chicken breast with lots of veggies and TONS of vinegar. No oil. No mayo. Practice what you preach and your children will follow your example. - 7/14/2010   6:33:54 PM
  • BIJOUX7
    256
    I think parents can set the tone with eating habits. My 6 year old loves fruits, veggies and water. I modeled these behaviors early his life. I can't help but wonder if my soda hating child will turn into a junk food lover in his teens. Peers are a powerful influence. - 7/10/2010   8:10:13 AM
  • 255
    I disagree. The reason that I eat everything and want to try new things is because of my mother. She was constantly cooking new and interesting recipes, encouraged me to find things that I enjoyed and try them when I started cooking. We ate breakfast and supper together almost everyday during the week. When I moved to university I still cooked all the time. I ate out but I still really knew that nothing store bought was ever going to taste like homemade potato salad or whatever. When I became a vegetarian my parents accepted the fact and now stock soy milk in their fridge at home and come to vegetarian restaurants with me, it it just a new adventure for them. They are cattle ranchers so the fact I gave up meat could have gone poorly. When I went to India I got them a cook book and spices and I am sure they have made everything out of that book over the last 5 years. Their influence on my eating/cooking habits has been profound. I don't think I would ever had the same love for food and cooking without my parents and especially my mothers influence. - 7/9/2010   9:16:36 AM
  • 254
    The problem is that the parents prepare different foods for the children because they say that they don't like it. My kids grew up eating what I ate. I did not make a grilled cheese and fries, or hotdog instead. My kids learned to eat their vegetables and discovered that most of the ones they fussed over the most became their favourites.

    Parents are too busy working. There are few stay at home moms preparing meals. Far too many parents in this day and age aren't eating healthy themselves and therefore the kids are learning the wrong way from the start. - 7/9/2010   7:58:33 AM
  • KRFORNEY
    253
    When my daughter was around 8 years old, she started "watching" what she ate. This came after her pediatrition told her she was 20 pounds overweight. I wanted to kill that doctor. She lost the 20 pounds and then some. Dieting turned into an obsession with her that is still with her today at the age of 20. I also got blamed by family members for following my example. I have struggled with weight my entire 39 years. I never gave her any kind of negative criticism about her image or pushed her to lose weight. I think it comes from peer pressure and the fact that it is affecting girls at a much younger age. I have to admit that I am a yo-yo dieter. I do my best and share my struggles with my daughter. She understands and assures me that my bad habits have never influenced her in any way other than to eat right and exercise to be as healthy as possible. - 7/2/2010   4:13:19 PM
  • 252
    Unfortunately, in this day and age, too many families just don't sit down and share meals together. So kids don't learn good nutrition from their parents. Just the quick and easiest fast food joint is what lots of kids eat 3 meals a day. Lucky are the kids that actually sit down to a home cooked meal these days. - 6/29/2010   12:44:21 AM
  • RHD224
    251
    This question is a no-brainer. Of course parents pass on their eating habits to their children. - 6/12/2010   7:32:19 PM
  • 250
    I think families do influence what their children eat just by the food they buy. If it's all McDs or similar fast food then that's going to adversely affect the child's diet just the same as loading heaps of food on a plate and expecting it to be cleaned could lead to over eating. - 5/31/2010   6:53:19 AM
  • 249
    I disagree with this. Humans very much develop by seeing what their parents do, hearing what they say, and then imitating them. Sort of the "monkey see, monkey do" mentality. And usually, the first people that infants/children experience are their parents. So what their parents eat certainly influences what they eat too. - 5/30/2010   4:00:10 PM
  • 248
    Train them up in the way they should go...(mmmm maybe diet is included too?) :)
    They will grow up, try different things and then realize junk food is junk food. Mine won't be perfect, nobody is, but they are smart enough to know what is good for their body and what isn't. We have to teach them and then like you said let them make choices in life. - 5/29/2010   12:04:25 PM
  • 247
    a lot of parents do kind of take the 'easy' way out, probably because they are already overworked and super busy, and feed their kids 'kid food'. I can't remember my mom EVER eating a fruit roll-up but you can bet we had them in our lunchboxes! - 5/28/2010   11:00:11 AM
  • 246
    I agree with what MOU37SE said, absolutely. Additionally, I don't think the study accounted for the fact that most kids ages 2 to 18 spend a lot of time at daycares, schools, and after-school activities, and aren't actually home with their families all that much, which means they're eating whatever is available, not necessarily what they would choose if they were at home with mom and dad doing the cooking and food purchasing.
    - 5/28/2010   9:00:47 AM
  • 245
    I disagree, my kids ate what we have at home. It's obvious that we create our own kids eating habits. - 5/14/2010   10:38:03 AM
  • 244
    I disagree with that study. I don't know which families they spoke with. Maybe in some families parents & grandparents do not influence their kids'/grandkids' eating, but among some of us it has and does. I also believe that adult family members do need to set an example for kids. This is also an area of life/family life where children learn that SOMEONE CARES about them & for them. Fast-food culture probably takes away from this, but some of us avoid/exclude "fast food". - 5/2/2010   9:06:24 PM
  • RUNNERGIRL007
    243
    YES, I think that parents are the first influence on their kid's diet. I've seen parents feeding McDonalds to their babies! Do you think that baby is going to grow as a healthy eating, vegetable lover? I don't think so... - 5/1/2010   4:36:45 PM
  • SPARK-LING
    242
    I certainly eat very differently than what I was served at home; much healthier. When it comes to my kids, I know that what they eat when they're with their friends and away from home may not be optimal. But for me that's all the more reason to make sure that the food they get at home is healthy. But it isn't just what we eat, it's what we talk about. We talk about healthier choices and portion control too. - 5/1/2010   2:28:11 PM
  • 241
    I have grown children now. When they were small they ate blue cheese salad dressing and salad because we did. They ate very healthy. As you mentioned, once they became older they were much more picky and changed their diets. Now that they're adults they eat very healthy again. They're very health conscious now - 4/27/2010   5:45:35 PM
  • 240
    I don't know about kids today but I know as a teen-ager I ate a lot of junk food but as I matured I found more and more I went back to the kind of foods I grew up on. Thank goodness my mother was pretty concerned about us getting the right nutrients. - 4/27/2010   2:52:03 PM
  • NBUTTERFLY1
    239
    I am not surprised at all. My daughter is 8 and has some food allergies so we pack her lunch for school. 2 years ago she ate a wide array of raw vegetables with her lunch (tomatoes, peppers, pea pods, peppers, green beans, carrots, etc.) Now when she packs her lunch she complains that she is the only one in her class that has to eat both fruit and veggies at lunch. I know she is right, hot lunch only offers a fruit or a vegetable. As a Brownie leader I have heard girls say things like "Apples! I can't remember when I had an apple!" It is a constant battle to keep her eating veggies, we mix shredded carrots into tuna, pack hummas for dipping, count lettuce & tomato slices for sandwiches. The most frustrating part is 2 years ago (when still eating at home) she used to gladly eat her veggies - now they just make her "different" and she resents that. I just keep packing her lunch telling her that I show my love through providing health food to her - and that is not going to change. - 4/22/2010   1:00:15 PM
  • 238
    I have a son and what I have for dinner is what he has. So if I make a bad choice he is with me. So I try hard to pre plan what we are having for meals for the week. I cannot overstock food. I like to keep a variety of food choices each week. So it is not boring.
    My son has asked can we have mcdonalds? I said no I have dinner already planned out and it will be ready in 20 minutes. Mind over matter. Either way he is hungry and wanting something now. So I try to out beat him on hunger and have something ready.
    I am hungry when I get home also it works out pretty good. If dinner isn't ready yet I will cut up a apple for him and put in a bowl or carrots and give him a drink. It won't fill him all the way but it will calm the hunger.
    I am hoping when he is on his own he will also use these ideas and skills so he can make good choices.
    Thanks for the blog! - 4/21/2010   12:40:25 PM
  • 237
    I am skeptical too. My husband and I do a lot of observing of parents and children. While this may not be applicable to all states and regions of the country, in the south, if you see parents who are overweight, then the children tend to be overweight as well. My husband and I are very noticeably health conscious and thus more physically fit than our friends and neighbors in our age group. I have three boys who are by some standards borderline underweight. They love playing outside (we do not own hand held computer or TV games where they remain sedentary). Even though I allow them to eat some junk food, they pretty much do not indulge because we do not indulge. Now as social scientist I realize I do not speak for the masses, but I believe there is a link between kids and parents just based on my unscientific observation. Hmmmm.... - 4/21/2010   12:27:06 PM
  • KAKIPOPUP
    236
    I think we parents may have more influence on our children's attitudes towards food than on what they actually eat at any given age or meal (except of course for very young children). - 4/21/2010   6:46:25 AM
  • 235
    I definitely think we have an influence on our kids eating habits. I made it a point to have my son be exposed to healthy food and home cooked meals. I also wanted to be sure is was not a juice-aholic like most of the toddlers I know. As a result he is very open-minded about food and enjoys a wide variety of foods. He also can tell us what "sometimes foods". Once he was introduced to fast food and juice he of course enjoyed those things but he still enjoys the healthier choices. He eats what we eat so I can't see how that is not influencing him. - 4/20/2010   2:12:11 PM
  • 234
    This just sounds WRONG to me. I do think it makes sense for teenagers' diets not to resemble their parents... I know in my house, food was a part of both my and my brother's teenage rebellion years (picking processed garbage over mom's homemade stuff, bringing snacks into the house that mom hadn't allowed when we were younger, etc.). However, both as a young child and now as an adult, my eating habits mirror my mom's pretty closely - we like many of the same foods, I prefer to cook from scratch instead of using instants, mixes, and frozen meals, and I strive to recreate many of the recipes I grew up with. - 4/20/2010   1:33:09 PM
  • 233
    I disagree! I have 3 boys (15, 5 & 18 months) - both my 15 year old & my 5 year old ask if something has high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils in it before they eat it, and if it does they ask me if they can have it. You can't expect to have healthy children if you aren't healthy. I am hoping that the great food choices we are making now will carry over into their adulthood - 4/14/2010   9:22:42 PM
  • 232
    They need to compare the child after he/she becomes an adult of about 30 to the parents. I think it's a 50/50 chance depending on how much education the person receives regarding health and nutrition too.

    My husband and I have 3 daughters between us who eat vastly different diets and whose fitness interests are also vastly different. I'm curious to see where their nutrition and fitness interests are when they make it into their 30s. - 3/23/2010   8:14:55 AM
  • 231
    I grew up overweight and my other siblings were skinny. So you can imagine how cruel children can be. I swore once I have a child I would never let him/her get fat. I started out with him not eating anything covered with gravy or ketchup, or butter, no soda no sugary juices I wanted him to taste real food. He ended up being a very healthy child. I am so glad I did this. I do think that we can influence what children eat. Heck he loves broccoli and peas and I cant stand either one. But I fed it to him so that he may have a choice. - 3/23/2010   12:15:18 AM
  • NJ_HOU
    230
    I disagree - excellent example:
    2 children who until leaving home at 18 took their vitamins and ate little junk food. One went to college and within a semester had cavaties for the 1st time in her life!! Son went to Coast Guard , same effect. Those novacaine shots and the pain were such a shock they went back to a relatively healthy diet. - 3/22/2010   6:15:59 PM
  • 229
    I have a nine year old boy- since I have been doing spark people, he has definitely been affected by what I eat. He likes the smells, and then wants to try whatever it is. He will even take fresh vegetables off my plate from lunch and munch on them. I think when kids see healthy eating, and we explain to them how important it is, they appreciate and understand it. - 2/21/2010   10:19:51 PM
  • 228
    I agree and disagree.

    Now that my daughter is in her 20's, I see that many of our eating habits that she did not seem to like when she was younger are now appearing in her own diet. For example, she did not like most vegetables, fruits, or home cooking when ages 10-18. She did eat what served between age 0-10, but it declined from there. She preferred what her friends had to eat. However, she just invited us over the other night to eat and the entire dinner could have been made by me or my sister or my mother! It was delicious mix of all fresh ingredients... none of which she would have used in her teens. - 2/18/2010   1:38:50 PM
  • 227
    I know that my healthy eating habits rubbed off on my son. We always had a bowl of fruit in the house and veggies with every dinner and lunch. - 2/18/2010   12:49:39 PM
  • 226
    I'm forty years old and am still fighting the eating habits I grew up with. As a child, and even now when I go home to visit, Mom has to cook and encourage everyone to eat. I think we definitely are influenced by our parents, a trait I'm trying to turn positively in my family by making better food choices and not keeping junk food in the house. If my kids want junk food they have to earn money from somewhere to buy it themselves and then walk or bike to the store to get it. - 2/18/2010   11:36:26 AM
  • 225
    I eat a lot different now than I did as a kid. I tend to eat more natural foods and healthier foods. In the long run I don't think a parent's diet influences the kids diet, but as a child it definitely does. - 2/18/2010   10:07:26 AM
  • QUITDEW
    224
    There is no way a parent dosn't influnce the childs behavior and choices I have heard of so many studies that say a obese parent is much more likley to have a obese child, so wouldn't that make the opposite true? - 2/18/2010   7:40:31 AM
  • 223
    No way. Come on... of course parents influence our diets. If we're taught at a young age that broccoli is yummy and vegetables need to be in every meal- we're more likely to at least know how we should eat. My friend is from a family that owns a pizza parlor- and their diet.. is very much carbs and dairy. She hates vegetables- anything green. I think she would think differently if her parents ate vegetables and she was used to at least having to eat some small portion of them with dinner. - 2/11/2010   3:23:39 PM
  • MOM210
    222
    I still feel like I influence my kids' choice in food. Not always positively but I am the one who gives in when they want McDonalds' or not! I cook dinner every night, they are not employed and can only eat at school and/or what we provide. - 2/11/2010   7:56:11 AM

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