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Eating Habits and Exercise Behaviors in Children Can Deteriorate Early


New study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Philadelphia, PA – As children transition from preschool-age to school-age, they may develop eating habits and leisure-time patterns that may not meet current recommendations and may contribute to childhood obesity. In a study published in the January/February 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers report that parents perceived that their pre-school children (2 to 5 years) had relatively good eating habits and physical activity levels, but that parents of school-aged children (6 to 12 years) felt their children had less healthful diets and leisure-time activities.

Surveying the mothers of 174 children aged 2 to 12, investigators from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Brown University Medical School determined the parent’s age, height and weight. The eating and leisure-time activity questionnaire was completed by the parent, and the child’s height and weight were obtained from the child’s medical record.

Parents of older children report greater consumption of sweetened drinks instead of low-fat dairy drinks, as well as higher consumption of salty and sweet snacks. Older children also tended to eat dinner with parents less often, which can contribute to less healthy food choices.

A greater percentage of parents with younger children rated their child as “just as” or “a little more” active than their peers as compared to the percentage of parents with older children. Additionally, parents reported that the older children watched significantly more hours of TV on weekend days than the younger children. Taken together, these findings suggest that parent reporting of behaviors commonly believed to promote childhood obesity increases with older children.

Writing in the article, Dr. Hollie A. Raynor, Department of Nutrition, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, states, “Although preschool-aged children engaged in more healthful behaviors according to parent recall, the preschool-aged children only met 2 dietary recommendations, fruit and low-fat dairy intake. All other parent-reported eating and leisure-time activity patterns did not meet current recommendations. Surprisingly, other than fast-food consumption, this study found few parent-reported eating and leisure-time behaviors related to weight status, which may be a consequence of the overall poor diet quality and relative inactivity reported in this diverse sample. Thus, interventions designed to help children meet dietary and leisure-time activity recommendations should begin by assisting parents with preschool-aged children in developing skills to provide the structure and the environment necessary for their young children to develop healthful lifestyles.”

The article is “Parent-reported Eating and Leisure-time Activity Selection Patterns Related to Energy Balance in Preschool and School-aged Children” by Hollie A. Raynor, PhD, RD; Elissa Jelalian, PhD; Patrick M. Vivier, MD; Chantelle N. Hart, PhD; and Rena R. Wing, PhD. It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 41, Issue 1 (January/February 2009) published by Elsevier.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the American Diabetes Association.

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Full text of the article is available upon request; contact Megan Curran at +1 215 239 3666 or to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the lead author please contact Hollie Raynor, PhD, RD, at 1 865 974 6259 or via email at

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education (SNE), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies; and communicate information on food, nutrition and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society’s official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

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