Wang looked at the overall correlation between children's and parents' intake. The correlation measure range is between minus 1 and 1, with zero reflecting no resemblance and 1 perfect resemblance. The correlation, overall, ranged from 0.26 to 0.29, using various combinations such as mother-daughter and father-son.
Put more simply: "The variation in children's diet that could be explained by their parent's diet was less than 10 percent," Wang said, "[and] 90 percent of the variation in the children's diet were explained by factors other than the parent's diet."
The results are something of a surprise, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and past president of the American Dietetic Association.
So what's a parent to do? After brushing up on your own diet, "take the kids to the store, let them see and smell the produce," Diekman suggested. "Talk about how you choose meat and how you decide which dairy foods to buy."
Let them help you cook healthy foods, too, she said.
Wang agreed that parents should aim to eat healthier themselves and encourage their children to follow similar habits. Schools, too, need to make a stronger commitment to getting the healthy diet message out, Wang said.
To learn more about healthy eating for kids, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
SOURCES: Youfa Wang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, international health and epidemiology, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Connie Diekman, M.Ed, R.D., director, university nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis, and past president, American Dietetic Association; May 25, 2009, Social Science & Medicine
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