N° 81 | September 2013

Child consumption of fruit and vegetables: the roles of child cognitions and parental feeding practices

The promotion of daily fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption in children and adolescents is important since food habits established early in life may track into adulthood. Eating habits are often unstable during adolescence, a period of life which is characterized by the elaboration of identity and rapid cognitive development. Adolescence is also a time of growing independence when individuals want to make their own decisions including what and when to eat. However, the eagerness of adolescents to take over responsibility for food choice and meals is not necessarily matched with their ability to make healthy decisions, and nutrition interventions directed towards this group of the population have had mixed success.

Child and parental influences on child eating

While cognitions (which refer to mental processes such as individual perceptions, memory and thinking) are important internal effectors of eating behavior in children, the most important external influence may be their parents. Parents affect children’s diet and eating behaviors in numerous ways, for instance by encouraging them to eat certain foods and restricting others. Thus, parents’ food-related practices work together with the children’s own cognitions and decisions about food choice and eating behaviors. Therefore, the impact of both child cognitions and parental food-related behaviors should be assessed to assist in the development of concurrent parent and child nutrition intervention programs.

The aim of the present work was to examine the roles of child cognitions and parental feeding practices in explaining child intentions and behavior regarding F&V consumption.

A Norwegian survey among 10-12-year-olds and their parents

Cross-sectional surveys were performed among 10-12-year-olds and their parents recruited from 18 schools in southwest Norway. The rationale for focusing on 10-to-12-year-olds is that children of this age have reached a cognitive level that makes them able to report their cognitions and behaviour, yet they are still highly influenced by their parents. Accordingly, it might be easier to implement intervention programs involving parents among individuals within this age range than among older adolescents. The child questionnaire included measures of F&V consumption and cognitions regarding F&V consumption as postulated by the Attitude-Social Influence-Self-Efficacy (ASE) model. The parent questionnaire included measures of parental feeding practices adapted from the Comprehensive Feeding Practices Questionnaire (CFPQ), which is a relatively new feeding practices measure including 12 dimensions on parental feeding practices.

The roles of child cognitions and parental feeding practices in explaining child intentions and behavior regarding child F&V consumption were assessed by running four regression models. Only parent-child dyads with complete data sets for each of the four models tested were included in our analyses (regression on child intention to eat fruit/child fruit consumption: n=643/n=628, regression on child intention to eat vegetables/child vegetable consumption: n=658/n=622).

The impact of child cognitions and parental feeding practices on child intentions and behavior regarding F&V consumption

Our analyses revealed that a relatively large portion of child intention and behavior regarding fruit consumption could be explained by child-reported cognitions (29% and 25%, respectively). This also applied to child intention and behavior regarding vegetable consumption (42% and 28%, respectively). Parent-reported feeding practices added another 3% to the variance explained for child intention to eat fruit, and 4% to the variance explained for child vegetable consumption. Thus, in the present study child cognitions appeared as far stronger correlates of child intention and behavior regarding child F&V consumption than parental feeding practices. It is important to note, however, that possible indirect associations were not investigated in the current study. We therefore suggest that future research address potential mediating effects of child cognitions on the associations between parental feeding practices and child healthy eating intention and behavior. Extended knowledge about the pathways of these variables is warranted to inform future parent-child intervention programs.

BASED ON: Melbye, E.L., Øverby, N.C. and Øgaard, T. (2011). Child consumption of fruit and vegetables: the roles of child cognitions and parental feeding practices. Public Health Nutrition;15(6):1047-1055.

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