The next generation of children will have to be taught that eating vegetables is good for the planet, and should be encouraged to enjoy them.
This is the conclusion of a study carried out by a research team led by Dr Dale Moss, the Director of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Professor Helen Gomez, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health at UNSW.
“The report makes the case that a new paradigm needs to be developed for how children should eat to help reduce the harmful impacts of climate change, particularly in terms of their nutritional wellbeing and weight gain,” Dr Moss said.
“We’re seeing the impact of climate action already, and it’s becoming more acute.”
Dr Moss said that one of the key factors in children’s eating habits was the food they grew up eating.
“In a sense, children who grow up in environments with a higher concentration of food are less likely to eat vegetables, or have vegetables in their diets at all, compared to children in a more homogeneous environment with a lower intake of vegetables,” Dr Madden said.
He said children were less likely than adults to have a variety of vegetables, and more likely to have only one or two vegetables a week.
“Children who grow in environments where they get a higher percentage of their diet from a single type of food will have more of a nutrient-dense diet, so they’re more likely than those who grow their diets from a variety to have healthy eating habits,” Dr Mason said.
Dr Moss’s research team assessed the diets of 1,100 children and their mothers and their children, aged five to 17.
The researchers used data from a range of dietary surveys, including the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (NNDRS), the Nutrient Nutrient Profiles, and the Nutrition and Food Research Institute.
“It’s important to understand how the children were living, and whether they were exposed to the foods that were consumed by their parents,” Dr Miles said.
The study found that the most important factor in childrens eating habits during their early years was their diet.
“There was a clear correlation between parents’ and childrens diets,” Dr Martin said.
However, there were also signs of environmental influences that could influence children’s diets, such as parental food and drink.
“Parents are more likely and more active at home, and they are more interested in children having access to nutritious food at school,” Dr Marks said.
This, in turn, influences children’s food preferences.
“If there’s a lack of access to a variety or a low proportion of nutrients in a food, children may be more likely in their eating behaviour to choose a more nutrient-rich food such as fruit or vegetables,” he said.
A ‘good’ diet is associated with a healthier weightThe study also found that children with a “good” diet, such that they had enough protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and ate a balanced diet, had a lower body mass index (BMI).
“It was very clear that a ‘good” eating pattern was associated with lower BMI in children,” Dr Mark said.
Children with a more “unhealthy” eating style, such a high consumption of refined carbohydrates, high sugar and fat, were also found to have higher BMI.
The team found that these children’s BMI was significantly higher than that of children who ate a healthy diet, but were also healthier.”
What we found was that the healthy eating pattern also resulted in higher BMI, which is a healthy pattern,” Dr Martins said.
In other words, children with unhealthy eating habits tended to have lower BMI than children who were not in unhealthy eating patterns.
Dr Martins added that these findings have important implications for public health.”
They’re telling us that the ‘good eating’ diet and the ‘healthy eating’ pattern both produce the same BMI, so we need to be looking at how to make the ‘bad’ eating patterns more effective,” he says.”
When we see that healthy eating is associated to lower BMI, we also need to recognise that healthy patterns can also lead to better health outcomes.
“As we age, we’re likely to be more and more exposed to environmental influences, so this study highlights the importance of monitoring and managing the exposure to environmental factors in a child’s diet.”
Dr Mason and Dr Marks are also collaborating with the UNSW Health Research Institute on how to identify the most effective way to encourage healthy eating in children.