Should we stop telling kids to eat healthy food?

It’s not uncommon for parents to directly influence the food choices and eating habits of their children. According to new research the ‘food pressure’ parents place on their children may be triggered by their own weight and eating habits.

Jerica Berge, an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, discovered that in cases where parents and adolescents are both overweight or obese, parents are more likely to restrict the food their children consume. Conversely, when parents and adolescents are within a healthy weight range, parents become more likely to encourage and even pressure their children to eat more.

According to Berge, neither denying food nor pressuring children to eat is healthy. Such behaviours may have inadvertent effects which may lead to a child becoming overweight or obese, or developing dangerous eating behaviours such as bingeing or purging. This can also carry long term effects as childhood obesity can lead to more serious health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Berge explains that these findings are helpful in enabling health care providers to identify families that might be at risk of developing poor eating habits.

Furthermore, according to Laura Hubbs-Tait, a human movement professor and parenting specialist at Oklahoma State University, ‘parents who put pressure on their children to eat more or less food risk raising children who never learn how to regulate their own eating’. When parents heavily control what their offspring eat, the children are not given the opportunity to figure out how much to eat on their own.

Rather than forcing or withholding food, parents should ensure that there are a variety of healthy food options in the home. Hubbs-Tait suggests that ‘parents should be helping children learn how to regulate their own eating, helping them to make healthy food and physical activity choices, and providing ample encouragement and support when they do so’.

Source: Pediatrics