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Role of parents in child’s nutrition key to health

Role of parents in child’s nutrition key to maintaining good lifelong habits

The results of the Child Nutrition Survey reinforce the importance of parents playing an active role in their children’s food choice throughout their school age years. However, to do this parents need more support, education and information. The New Zealand Dietetic Association (NZDA) is calling for more government funding of nutrition-based programmes to achieve this.

Clearly parents play an important role in establishing younger children’s healthy eating habits, but the impact of this role diminishes as children get older and become more independent in their food choices.

The survey showed that school children aged five and six years old have the best nutritional scorecard but as they get older the quality of their diet declines. Similarly levels of overweight and obesity are lowest amongst this younger age group.

The good news is that parents are clearly doing a good job of establishing healthy eating habits. However, the quality of children’s diets appears to decline as children get older, possibly due to the fact that they are making more independent food choices.

The New Zealand Dietetic Association (NZDA) is encouraged by the fact that children are getting a relatively good start in life and encourages parents, educators and health professionals to maintain their focus on assisting children in making healthy food choices, even though they may appear to be at an age where they are capable of doing so themselves. They also need to support the creation of environments that will assist children to make healthy food choices in situations outside the home.

More research into this area is clearly needed so we can develop a better understanding of factors that determine children’s food choices and how healthy eating habits are established early in life can be maintained. We also need to develop strategies that involve children in developing solutions to the food selection issues they face.

Research consistently shows that parents and care-givers have a major role to play and the results of the CNS reinforce this. However, given the pressures of time, money, lifestyles and the sheer choice of foods available to children, parents need more direction to ensure they can be effective in this area. The long-term benefits to New Zealanders’ health would be tremendous given the fact that we will potentially be establishing habits in children that will last them a lifetime.

More funding urgently needed to assist in parent education

NZDA is urgently calling for more funding to develop programmes that will support parents in their role as nutrition educators to their children. A greater focus on this area would have benefits right across our population. The results also show the importance of ethnically appropriate intervention programmes given the disparity in nutrition quality of Maori and Pacific Island children’s food intake compared to that of other children. The benefits of long-term good nutrition can be seen in reducing incidence of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

A comparison of funding for other health and safety issues such as road safety, physical activity and alcohol use with nutrition education shows that nutrition education is woefully under-funded. The CNS does not address the problems. It simply provides baseline information from which we can develop recommendations and implement appropriate education programmes. However, there is no funding being made available to implement such programmes. We have been talking about the issues for many years now but no funding has been allocated to address these. Plans, consultation and talking will not improve what families and children are eating. NZDA calls for funding to enable action today!

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