Majority of Kiwi parents admit feeding kids junk 'just so they will eat'

By Martin Johnston

Parents who give their children junk food just to make sure they eat may be setting them up for later obesity. Photo / 123RF
Parents who give their children junk food just to make sure they eat may be setting them up for later obesity. Photo / 123RF

The majority of Kiwi parents admit to feeding their kids up on poor food just so they will at least eat something.

The worrying finding, in a country struggling with child obesity, comes in a poll of 504 New Zealand parents of children aged 2 to 12.

We know that children when born have a good ability to regulate their appetite. They have lost that by the age of 3 or 4
Rachael Taylor, Otago University

Done for Swisse Vitamins, the online survey found that 66 per cent regularly or sometimes "give their kids food that is not nutritionally ideal just so they will eat".

Virtually all parents agreed with the statement: "It's better they eat something than nothing."

But Associate Professor Rachael Taylor, a children's nutrition researcher at Otago University, said making children eat when they aren't hungry is a bad habit that could be contributing to New Zealand's obesity problem.

We have the third highest rates of obesity in the developed world for both adults, 31 per cent, and children, 11 per cent.

"We know that children when born have a good ability to regulate their appetite. They have lost that by the age of 3 or 4," said Taylor.

Parents should encourage children to be guided by their own hunger cues. Not listening when the body signals it doesn't need food is "setting them up for a lifetime of eating when they don't need it".

The survey found kids love fruit, but vegetables topped the list of most-disliked foods.

The Health Ministry's latest nutrition survey found 75 per cent of children ate the recommended 2+ servings of fruit a day and 57 per cent ate the recommended amount of vegetables, 2+ a day for 2-4-year-olds and 3+ for older children.

The Swisse survey, done by Bauer Media Research and Insights, found 53 per cent of parents give their children vitamin supplements. Multi-vitamins were the most common type, followed by vitamin C.

Auckland University child health expert Associate Professor Cameron Grant said it was reasonable for children to be given vitamin and mineral supplements because there was relatively little fortification of New Zealand foods with the likes of vitamin D and iron, compared with many other developed countries.

Iron deficiency in young children, and vitamin D deficiency rickets were more common in New Zealand than in countries with more vitamin and mineral fortification.

Multivitamins would be better than vitamin C, Grant said, and the first two years of life was the time of greatest need.

Food guidelines

• Fruit - 2+ serves a day
• Vegetables - 2-3+ serves
• Breads and cereals - 4-5+ serves for
• Cheese/low-fat milk products - 2-3 serves
• Lean meat/seafood/eggs/legumes/nuts/seeds - 1+ serves
• Added sugar - no more than 5tsp

Kiwi parents' views on food

• 52% - Are extremely or very concerned about their children's nutrition
• 60% - Don't know/unsure what recommended daily nutrition guidelines are
• 73% - Concerned at how much sugar their kids consume
• 36% - Believe their children eat too much processed food
• 31% - Have kids who are fussy eaters
• 23% - Believe their children eat too much food containing additives
• 53% - Give their children vitamins

Kids' favourite foods

• 66% - Fruit
• 58% - Icecream
• 55% - Chips
• 54% - Chicken
• 47% - Chocolate
• 41% - Lollies

Kids' most-disliked foods

• 43% - Vegetables
• 32% - Fish

Source: Online survey of 504 parents by Bauer Media Research and Insight.

- NZ Herald

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