Kids' eating impacted by mums' diet and socio economic factors

28 March 2018
New research shows toddler diets mirror their mums, and children of low income, younger and migrant mothers are developing poor dietary habits.

The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, examined the dietary behaviour of 243 mothers and their two year old children from a disadvantaged area in southwestern Sydney and found poor diet quality in children is strongly linked to low maternal socio-economic status.

Senior author Professor Vicki Flood said given concerns around obesity rates in Australian children, researchers were eager to know more about the relationship between the diets of mothers and their young children.

“What was most interesting was the connection we found between maternal and child diet for all food and drinks categories, with the exception of milk due to high toddler intake. This pattern was most strongly observed in relation to fast food consumption,” said Professor Flood from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre.

The research team also examined links between toddler diets and key maternal socio-demographic factors such as age, marital status, employment, education, income, country of origin, weight status and duration of breast feeding.

The findings indicated:

  • Children of lower income mothers (less than $40,000 per year) were five times more likely to consume less than one serve of fruit a day compared with those of higher income mothers. They were also four times more likely to consume hot chips two or more times a week.
  • Children of younger mothers (less than 25 years at child’s birth) were three times more likely to consume more soft drink (more than 0.5 cups a day) and sugary drinks (more than 0.5 cups a day) compared to those of older mothers
  • Children of non-Australian born mothers were twice as likely to consume more fruit juice (more than 0.5 cups a day) and sweet snacks, and three times more likely to consume fast food (2 or more times a week) compared to those of Australian-born mothers.
“If we can get mums to adopt healthier food behaviours our study suggests it is likely their children will too.”
Ms Kanita Kunaratnam

Not surprisingly the dietary intake of most two year old children in the study was characterised by high levels of discretionary food and low vegetable consumption. Only 20 percent of children met the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommendation of 2.5 serves of vegetables a day.

Lead author and dietitian Ms Kanita Kunaratnam said the study shows that more needs to be done to support mothers to improve their own diet and that of their children.

“As a mother of three I know how hard it can be to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet for my children, but this study shows some mother’s face additional challenges specific to their circumstances and will need more support,” said Ms Kunaratnam, PhD student in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“This new knowledge can help us improve public health interventions and health promotion strategies to encourage healthier food habits.”

“For example, for mothers born outside Australia we need more culturally-inclusive strategies.

“Previous research among migrants has shown the adoption of a more westernised diet, a lack of access to traditional food staples and replacement with readily available convenience and processed food has impacted their diet. Language barriers and low health literacy often compound these problems.

“For low income mums we need to think about ways to better support them to access fresh fruit and vegetables which they might not be purchasing due to financial constraints.

“If we can get mums to adopt healthier food behaviours our study suggests it is likely their children will too.”

The cross sectional analysis was conducted using self-reported data from the Health Beginnings Trial involving first-time mothers and their two year old children. It was funded by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council grant led by researcher Associate Professor Li Ming Wen.

Michelle Blowes

Media and PR Adviser (Health)

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