Preschoolers' dietary habits unhealthy
Kids replacing healthy choices with junk, studies say
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 25, 2012 06:00 am
Preschool-aged children are grabbing for more sugary juices and sodas while neglecting their fruits and vegetables, according to a pair of University of Alberta studies.
Less than 30 per cent of the 1,800 four- and five-year-olds studied consumed the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, however, nearly 80 per cent consumed at least one serving of junk food a week.
“I am surprised at how striking it was, the number of children consuming sugar-sweetened beverages as well as how poor consumption of certain food groups were,” said Kate Storey, assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the university.
The studies dissected the dietary habits of preschool-aged children, as told by their parents, who attended Edmonton-area public health clinics for immunizations between Nov. 2005 and Aug. 2007.
Storey said children at this age are vulnerable to developing poor eating habits, adding these habits will likely follow them into adolescence.
“It’s alarming because children in this age group don’t really have that much control in terms of making decisions about their dietary intake,” Storey said. “If they’re not meeting their needs, it can lead to potential problems later on in life.”
Common problems include diabetes and obesity, although poor diet can impact one’s overall health, she said.
Sedentary behaviour and socioeconomic status had a significant impact on the number of kids reaching for sugar-sweetened beverages.
The studies found nearly 55 per cent of children who spent more than two hours per day plunked in front of a television screen, including those with controllers in their hands, consumed at least one soda each week.
Glenn Wilson, phys-ed teacher at Leo Nickerson Elementary School and member of the St. Albert Physical Education Council, said video games often drive individuals to make unhealthy options.
“The reason video games are so addictive is because the programmers feed off the instant gratification and, therefore, foods that require little to no preparation are in greater demand,” he said, adding grab-and-go foods provide less interruption.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends three hours of physical activity per day for preschoolers, which can include things like climbing stairs, playing outdoors and walking.
Wilson said it is important for children at this age to participate in physical activity because it is needed to ensure normal growth patterns and develop healthy habits.
The studies showed children living in lower-income neighbourhoods are more likely to consume soda, at 54.5 per cent, compared to those living in higher-income neighbourhoods, at 40.8 per cent.
“These neighbourhoods exist everywhere,” Storey said. “Some of the lower-economic status neighbourhoods have things called food deserts, where basically there’s more accessibility of fast-food establishments and less accessibility of grocery stores.”
Roughly 83 per cent of preschool-aged children living in lower-income neighbourhoods consumed at least one serving of junk food compared to 76 per cent of those living in high-income neighbourhoods.
Storey said it is up to parents, schools and communities to ensure children have healthy diets.
“It’s not any one person’s responsibility,” she said. “It takes a village.”
Wilson said parents must lead by example, since their children mirror many of their unhealthy habits. He said if parents fail to act as good role models, it often puts more pressure on the school system.
The purpose of the studies was to determine the patterns of food and beverage consumption amongst preschool-aged children.
“We know a lot about what children and adolescents are eating, however, there’s less information about what preschoolers are eating and what foods and beverages they’re consuming,” Storey said.