Parents have less sway over kids' diets than expected

A new study from the Johns Hopkins University looked at 30 years' worth of studies and found that kids' diets have become far different from their parents', and they appear less healthy.
BY MEREDITH COHN Published: January 4, 2011
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— Susanna DeRocco uses homegrown vegetables in meals that her two young sons help prepare. She helps the boys understand food labels and decode messages from advertisers. She supports improvements in school lunches.


With a little effort, she says, parents can lay a solid foundation that helps their children make good food decisions for the rest of their lives.

“There are a lot of influences out there,” said the Towson, Md., mother and educator. “They are going to have to make choices, and I feel I've given them a really good framework.”

But while Ben, 10, and Griffin, 7, now are following their parents' lead, most parents are not heavily influencing their children's diets, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers looked at 30 years' worth of studies and found that kids' diets have become far different from their parents', and they appear less healthy.

May A. Beydoun, a co-author of the study, said many people assume that parents have a strong say in what their children eat. But outside forces might have more sway, particularly over older kids who dine out more often, concluded Beydoun and Dr. Youfa Wang, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of International Health.

The outside forces are many: friends, schools, area stores and advertisers, among others.

“The parents' influence was weak,” said Beydoun, a staff scientist at the National Institute on Aging and a former postdoctoral fellow at the Bloomberg School. “Parents can have an influence, but there needs to be a concerted effort outside the home.”

The many negative messages are contributing to the obesity epidemic among young people, she said.

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