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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: A Review of Family and Social Determinants of Children's Eating Patterns and Diet Quality

Authors
item Patrick, Heather - BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MED
item Nicklas, Theresa

Submitted to: Journal of the American College of Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 1, 2005
Publication Date: February 1, 2005
Citation: Patrick, H., Nicklas, T. 2005. A review of family and social determinants of children's eating patterns and diet quality. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 24(2):83-92.

Interpretive Summary: Because of the problem of childhood obesity, it has become important to understand the range of issues that impact what and how much children eat. Recent research has shown that children’s eating habits are largely influenced by things going on around them—both in terms of the physical characteristics of their surroundings as well as the social characteristics of their surroundings. In terms of their physical surroundings, children are more likely to eat foods that are available and easily accessible, and they tend to eat greater quantities when larger portions are provided. So, for example, if parents were trying to encourage their children to eat more vegetables, it may be helpful to have vegetables cut up in smaller pieces that children can handle and put in places where children can get to them easily. If parents were trying to help their children maintain or lose weight, then serving slightly smaller portions may be helpful. Children’s social surroundings include a variety of factors such as parents’ education, time constraints, and ethnicity, and these characteristics also influence the types of foods children eat. Mealtime structure is also an important factor related to children’s eating patterns. Mealtime structure includes issues such as whether families eat together, TV-viewing during meals, and the source of foods (e.g., restaurants, schools). Parents also play a direct role in children’s eating patterns through their behaviors, attitudes, and feeding styles. Interventions aimed at improving children’s nutrition need to address the variety of social and physical factors that influence children’s eating patterns.

Technical Abstract: With the growing problem of childhood obesity, recent research has begun to focus on family and social influences on children’s eating patterns. Research has demonstrated that children’s eating patterns are strongly influenced by characteristics of both the physical and social environment. With regard to the physical environment, children are more likely to eat foods that are available and easily accessible, and they tend to eat greater quantities when larger portions are provided. Additionally, characteristics of the social environment, including various socioeconomic and sociocultural factors such as parents’ education, time constraints, and ethnicity influence the types of foods children eat. Mealtime structure is also an important factor related to children’s eating patterns. Mealtime structure includes social and physical characteristics of mealtimes including whether families eat together, TV-viewing during meals, and the source of foods (e.g., restaurants, schools). Parents also play a direct role in children’s eating patterns through their behaviors, attitudes, and feeding styles. Interventions aimed at improving children’s nutrition need to address the variety of social and physical factors that influence children’s eating patterns.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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