We don't need a study to tell us that our eating habits have profound effects on the healthy eating choices our children make. However, new research conducted last year and released earlier this month in the American Kids Study takes this beyond the aspect of monkey-see, monkey do; the number one predictor of developing lifelong healthy eating choices in our children is teaching them to read labels. Simple as that.
The study came out of surveying 5,000 children, aged 6-11, from households included in the Survey of the American Consumer and concludes that "parents who teach their children to read nutrition labels appear to have the most health-conscious kids. The children of these parents are 88% more likely than the average child to read nutrition labels, 47% more likely to avoid fattening foods, 37% more likely to stay away from sugary foods, and 31% more likely to play sports to stay in shape."
As well as teaching children to read food labels, another habit can be simply not stocking junk food at home. "...Parents who purchase low-calorie or organic foods and parents who don't keep junk food at home have children who are more likely than the average child to express healthy eating-related attitudes," the study said.
Finally, on the other end of the spectrum, children who don't have rules in place on what's OK to eat "are 68% more likely to eat whatever they want," and I think we have all seen the beeline made for sugary and processed foods. Because babies arrive genetically predisposed to sugary tastes, it takes some serious effort on the part of parents to steer that sugar love toward other flavors and finally healthy, well-rounded eating choices. But if it starts at reading labels youself, and passing this habit on to your children, then you are well on your way.
Closer to home, parents' nutritional IQ can benefit from reading labels, too. A study conducted last year at Washington State University School of Economic Sciences found that "in some cases, label reading is even more effective than exercise," in losing weight. For help on what to look for on labels, this article by Amy Evans, Portland mom and writer may offer some insight.