New UniSA research shows not only are children as young as five able to recognise healthy food choices when it comes to what they eat, but they tend to follow their parent’s lead, despite many other influences.
The study conducted through UniSA’s Centre for Nutritional Physiology, entitled Parental Attitudes and Nutrition Knowledge focussed on more than 200 children aged five and six years and their parents.
The research was carried out by Honors student Dorota Zarnowiecki, under the supervision of Drs Natalie Sinn and Jim Dollman, who has since been awarded with an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship to undertake her PhD at UniSA in nutrition.
“What we were looking at was how parents can influence their kids and the link between parents’ and children’s nutritional knowledge,” Dorota said.
“I developed a game with 30 different pictures of foods and the children were asked to identify which were healthy and which weren’t. The results were then compared with what their parents thought were healthy foods.
“The results showed that the kids were able to tell the difference; but the strongest results from the study were that parent’s knowledge and children’s knowledge of healthy foods are closely linked.
“Parents’ attitudes toward health were also found to have a significant impact on children’s awareness of healthy foods. So if parents highly value health, then the kids will too.
“So it’s really up to parents to set the example, to talk to their children and eat the healthy foods as well.”
Dorota said the research could be used as the basis for an education program to help parents promote healthy eating choices, and could form part of prenatal classes.
“Parenting doesn’t come with a rule book and when you’re a parent you’re expected to be a dietician, a counsellor, a teacher, a nurse - it’s just endless. That’s why we’d like to see extra information made available to parents to help make healthy, life-long choices for their children.
“Having good knowledge of nutrition is going to help them make better choices and help them later on in life - from what fruits and vegetables to eat and how many serves of each, to choosing wholegrain bread over white bread for older children, or avoiding foods that have lots of added sugar in them like cakes (‘sometimes’ foods) – all the basic concepts.”
Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.