Parent Support Critical to Improving Children’s Eating Habits
July 5, 2007 – While school nutrition professionals and others in the school community are making great efforts to promote healthy eating and physical activity among students in schools, many of the efforts are showing limited success. An Associated Press article published in papers nationwide today describes a review of 57 scientific studies of nutrition education programs designed to promote physical activity and healthy eating habits. Just four of the programs reviewed showed ‘promise’ in changing the way children eat.
The article makes the point that, without parent support and involvement, many of the efforts tried in schools have had limited success. Students only eat about 20% of their meals in schools over the course of the calendar year. Widespread classroom and cafeteria nutrition promotion programs that emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy and physical activity are too often undermined by a contrary message outside of the school environment. Research released last month in the American Journal of Public Health cited that kids are more likely to gain weight during the summer when they are away from the benefits of school nutrition programs.
According to the Associated Press article:
Experts agree that although most funding targets schools, parents have the greatest influence, even a biological influence, over what their children will eat. When children slim down, it’s because “their families get religion about this and figure out what needs to happen,” said Philip Zeitler, a pediatric endocrinologist and researcher. “If the mother is eating Cheetos and white bread, the fetus will be born with those taste buds. If the mother is eating carrots and oatmeal, the child will be born with those taste buds,” said Robert Trevino of the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio.
While unable to accomplish a shift within society on their own, schools have made tremendous strides. Through the implementation of local wellness policies this past school year, school nutrition professionals took the lead in promoting nutritious food and beverage items in schools. According to a survey of 976 school nutrition directors last month on wellness policy implementation, more than 83% noted increased healthful food options and almost half indicated changes in the healthy choices/behavior of students. School nutrition programs are now offering such a la carte items as whole-wheat, reduced-fat cheese pizza; a variety of fruits and vegetables, including jicama salad and kiwi; hummus and pita bread and low-fat yogurt. Increasingly, students are consuming these options.