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Parents Influence Kids' Eating Less Than Ever

healthy eating, family health

Your kids don't care what you eat.

Set a good example, serve nutritious meals, offer healthy snacks and your kids will grow into healthy eaters with a taste for fresh fruit over fruit-flavored candy. Such is the conventional wisdom for raising healthy kids.

Ahhh, but a new study finds that is, more and more, wishful thinking. After looking at a whole bunch of studies published between 1980 and 2006 on how parents influence what their kids eat, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that parents’ influence is diminishing around the world and that American parents have the least influence of all on their kids eating habits.

That certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

So what is influencing children’s eating habits? Advertising. School lunches. And peers, cupcake-eating, soda-swilling peers. Dr. Youfa Wang, lead author of the study, said family environment only plays a partial role. Shari Roan of the LA Times quotes Yang:

More attention should be given to the influence of the other players on children’s eating patterns, such as that of schools, the local food environment and peer influence, government guidelines and policies that regulate school meals, and the broader food environment that is influenced by food production, distribution and advertising.

A study like this is certainly one response to people (including parents) who yell “personal responsibility, personal responsibility” when public agencies attempt to curb advertisement and other marketing for fast food and other junk that is aimed directly at kids. Sure, parents don’t have to buy the stuff and there are plenty who don’t. But for every whole-grain muffin and water chaser, there are other, turns out stronger, influences, waiting to undermine Mom and Dad’s good efforts.

(And soccer practice sure isn’t going to work off the extra fat and calories.)

That board of supervisors in California who banned toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals in their unincorporated town? Totally ahead of the curve.

Do the results of the meta-study surprise you? Or do you still blame parents for kids’ crappy eating habits?

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