About The Buzz: Parents’ perception of kids’ eating habits not in sync with reality?

January 20, 2016

TheBUZZ Parents’ perception of kids’ eating habits not in sync with reality?


A recent study, published in the Center for Disease Control’s Preventing Chronic Disease, reports that parents perceptions of their children’s eating habits are not consistent with reality. The reality is that children are eating too few fruits and veggies and drinking more sugary, sweetened beverages than is recommended. Less nutritious foods, along with decreased time playing outside, is contributing to weight gain in America’s youth.1


National statistics indicate that 8.1% of infants and toddlers and 8.4% of preschool children (ages 2-5 years) are obese. This is a serious issue, as childhood obesity jeopardizes the growth, development and wellbeing of children. Obesity threatens a child’s health, placing youth at risk for negative psychological outcomes, such as depressive symptoms, poor body image, low self-esteem, increased risk of eating disorders and behavioral and learning problems. In addition, overweight and obese children are more likely to develop hypertension, asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes and experience early onset puberty.2 Overweight and obesity rates tripled between 1971 and 2011. At this point in time, one in three American children is overweight or obese.3


Solving childhood obesity requires a comprehensive approach and needs support from many different areas, including changes in policy, the environment, the community, and the family. The purpose of the study was to describe parents’ perceptions of the healthfulness of their young child’s diet and body weight. In addition, the researchers assessed parents’ adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 5-2-1-0 recommendations. This 5-2-1-0 campaign consists of the following recommendations:

  • 5: Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • 2: Limit screen time (using computers, playing video games, and watching television, videos or DVDs) to 2 hours a day. Children younger than age 2 should have no screen time.
  • 1: Strive for at least 1 hour of physical activity a day.
  • 0: Limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

There are several parental practices in early childhood that prevent or treat childhood obesity: the timing of the introduction of solid foods, the types and amounts of foods consumed, and time spent on play and sedentary activities. Pediatricians recommend the 5-2-1-0 guidelines to parents to help encourage healthful behaviors from a young age.

To evaluate parents’ adherence to these guidelines and their perception of their child’s health, researchers interviewed more than 3,000 parents from across the United States as a part of the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), asking them detailed questions about their children’s weight, eating habits, physical activity and screen time. This is what they found:

  • The proportion of children with a very healthy diet significantly declined from infancy to preschool: 97% of parents of young infants reported their child’s diet was “very healthy” compared with 38% of parents with preschool age children.
  • About 80% of parents thought that their child’s diet contained enough fruits and vegetables, while in reality only 30% of preschoolers met the “5 servings a day” recommendation.
  • More than one third (37%) of toddlers and more than half (55%) of preschoolers ate fast food one or more times a week.
  • About half (54%) of parents limited their child’s sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
  • Only 2% of toddlers met the recommendation for no screen time.


The numbers are clear: parents must be more intentional about their children’s eating habits in order to truly encourage healthy development, growth and wellbeing. Regardless of a child’s weight status, parents should be encouraging healthy eating habits and daily physical activity to optimize their child’s diet and overall health. Doing so will enable children who are of a healthy weight to maintain their weight and likely lead to a healthy weight for children who are currently overweight or obese. The 5-2-1-0 recommendations are consistent with the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters recommendations: the more fruits and veggies, the better!


1 Briefel, R. R., Deming, D. M., & Reidy, K. C. (2015). Parents’ Perceptions and Adherence to Children’s Diet and Activity Recommendations: the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study. Preventing Chronic Disease, 12, E159. View | View
2 Childhood Overweight. Obesity Society, 2014. View
3 Overweight in Children. American Heart Association, 2014. View

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