WEDNESDAY, June 1, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Specially designed nutrition education programs can wean children away from soda, candy bars and French fries toward more healthy diets, according to a new study.
"You can raise a child to enjoy healthy eating and to be selective about food choices. Habits developed in childhood will hopefully last throughout their lives," study lead author Linda Van Horn, professor of medicine at Northwestern University, said in a prepared statement.
Her team's study of nearly 600 children ages 8 to 10 found that those who attended a nutrition education program that taught them to eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol had much better eating habits than children in a "usual care" group who were given only general nutrition information.
After three years, the children in the nutrition education program, on average, got more than 67 percent of their daily total calories from heart-healthy foods, compared to less than 57 percent for children in the usual-care group.
The study researchers believe family involvement and easy access to healthy foods are key ingredients to the success of these types of programs.
"These new findings offer valuable lessons for finding effective ways to help children develop healthier eating habits -- a critical need in light of the rising rates of obesity and related conditions among children," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), said in a prepared statement.
The NHLBI sponsored the study, which appears in the June issue of Pediatrics.
"With the right guidance and nutrition education, children learn to prefer health foods such as carrots and raisins or cereal as snacks, for example. We could really help improve both the nutritional quality and energy balance of our children's diets by teaching them to make healthy food choices at an early age," Van Horn said.
The Nemours Foundation has more about healthy eating for children.