Parents Not Best Barometer of Kid's Eating, Exercise Habits

Survey found mismatch between perception, reality

FRIDAY, Jan. 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Parents may not always be the best barometer of their child's eating and exercise habits, a new study shows.

Researchers reported in the January/February issue of Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior that mothers of preschool-aged children thought their kids ate and exercised well, while those with older children did not. But when the children and their actual habits were examined more closely, there was little difference between the two age groups.

When comparing the questionnaire answers with the child's height and weight, the researchers found younger children weren't much better off their older peers.

"Although preschool-aged children engaged in more healthful behaviors according to parent recall, the preschool-aged children only met 2 dietary recommendations, fruit and low-fat dairy intake. All other parent-reported eating and leisure-time activity patterns did not meet current recommendations," Hollie A. Raynor, from the department of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, wrote in a journal news release.

"Surprisingly, other than fast-food consumption, this study found few parent-reported eating and leisure-time behaviors related to weight status, which may be a consequence of the overall poor diet quality and relative inactivity reported in this diverse sample. Thus, interventions designed to help children meet dietary and leisure-time activity recommendations should begin by assisting parents with preschool-aged children in developing skills to provide the structure and the environment necessary for their young children to develop healthful lifestyles," she wrote.

The survey, in which researchers from the Knoxville, Tenn., school and Brown University Medical School questioned 172 mothers, found more of those with younger children thought their child was as active, or a bit more than, his or her peers and watched less TV on weekends than mothers of older children.

Older children, according to their mothers, also consumed more sweetened drinks and salty and sweet snacks than the younger ones. They also didn't eat dinner with parents as often as the preschoolers did, a factor generally thought to lead to kids making poorer food choices.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about childhood obesity.

SOURCE: Elsevier, news release, Jan. 9, 2009
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