March 16, 2017

Don't Give Up on Kids' Nutrition

Even though most parents know what their kids should eat, they often don't push the issue, preferring the path of least resistance.

Most parents will tell you they want to provide their children with a healthy diet and foster good eating habits, so why is it that one in five parents doesn’t think it is important to limit junk food and fast food in their child’s diet?

That is just one of the results from a national poll of parents by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Another surprising finding was that only about a third of parents of children ages 4 to 18 believe they are doing a good job of feeding their children well.

According to the poll, slightly over half of parents believe their kids are mostly healthy, even though only one in six parents polled said their child’s diet was very nutritious and about 25 percent rated their children’s eating as somewhat healthy or not healthy at all.

It’s clear that many parents need help. While some parents need help understanding food labels or thinking of ideas for healthy kid-friendly meals or tips for dealing with picky eaters, other parents just need a little help with grocery shopping.

So what’s the problem? The results of the poll highlight the obstacles parents face when it comes to feeding kids a healthy diet.

“…[T]he reality of work schedules, children's activities and different food preferences can make meal preparation a hectic and frustrating experience,” according to a statement from poll co-director, Sarah Clark. Then there's the ongoing struggle to buy food that kids like and that is healthy.

The disconnect between what parents want for their kids and what they actually end up feeding them is very much the product of the fact that giving kids less nutritious meals is easier, less expensive and avoids conflict and stress, Clark explained.

When the occasional fast food meal or junk food snack becomes the norm, though, promoting healthy eating habits becomes more difficult.

The majority of parents polled said they believed promoting a healthy diet for their children was important, but in addition to the 20 percent who didn’t think that limiting fast food and junk food was important, another 16 percent doubted the importance of limiting sugary beverages.

Knowledge is another obstacle for parents. About 50 percent of the parents polled said they didn’t really know how to tell which foods are actually healthy. The inconsistent use of words like all-natural, sugar-free, low-fat and organic on food packaging made choosing healthy foods confusing.

Also cited by parents, particularly those with lower education and income levels, was the lack of availability of healthy foods where they shop.

It’s clear that many parents need assistance. While some parents need help understanding food labels or thinking of ideas for healthy kid-friendly meals or tips for dealing with picky eaters, other parents just need a little guidance on grocery shopping, cooking and other household chores to make mealtime less hectic and more pleasant.

Some of these hurdles can be addressed within the family unit while others may require parents to seek professional help. Many child health groups and organizations offer child nutrition information on their websites.

Parents should identify their personal obstacles and take steps to overcome them so that healthy eating is both doable and convenient. After all, it’s their children’s health that is at stake.

You can read the full report on the C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s website.
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