Immediate family members are the strongest role models for influencing children’s healthy eating habits, finds a new survey from the British Nutrition Foundation.1

Role models

The survey found that, while children are bombarded with celebrity promotions and images, they still look to close family members to set an example for their diet.

However, role models shift with age. While 37% of 7–10 year olds rate family as their healthy eating role models, only 23% of 14–16 year olds do. When it comes to celebrity role models, only 6% of 7–10 year olds look up to celebrities but, by the age of 14–16, this rises to 16%.

Developing healthy eating habits

The survey also explored children’s attitudes towards strategies aimed at positive behaviour change. The most popular strategies amongst all age ranges were targets and rewards. In the 7–10 age group, buddying up with a friend or family member was most popular.

Around 20% said that a fun activity with their family would be a good reward for success. But the most popular reward was pocket money.

Reward preference also shifts with age, with younger children preferring family activities and older children favouring pocket money.

When asked what would nudge them to eat more healthily, 36% of children said that having healthy food and drink options available at home would help.

Nearly half of those surveyed said that they would use a chart to help them meet their goals. A quarter of children said they would ask a family member to help define goals and track progress.

Motivations for healthy eating

The strongest motivator for eating healthily, particularly for children aged 14–16, was to be a healthy weight.

Other motivations for healthy eating were to feel good and to have more energy. Teenage girls also said that having nicer hair, skin and nails was a motivation for eating well.

What can health professionals do?

Encourage parents and carers to be healthy eating role models for children.

Being aware of children’s motivations for eating healthily and the rewards that can encourage healthy choices may help parents and carers understand and influence children’s eating habits.

Marketing of junk food to children

Adverts marketing unhealthy food to children are being banned from TV, cinema, radio, newspapers, magazines and websites to help tackle obesity. 2 The new ban takes effect in July 2017 and covers adverts in children’s media for foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar.

References

  1. British Nutrition Foundation. Press releases. 2016.
  2. MedScape. UK to ban unhealthy food ads aimed at children. 2017.