A team from Ohio State University in the US wanted to examine the relationship between children’s consumption of healthy and unhealthy foods, with the expectation that healthy food choices would displace unhealthy ones.
Instead, the researchers found the opposite was true – there was no statistical link between children’s consumption of foods and beverages such as fruit, vegetables and milk, and unhealthy choices like fast food and high-sugar soft drinks.
“Children with high intake of healthy foods were just as likely as children with low intake of healthy foods to consume sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, sweets and salty snacks. This was true for younger (2–3 years) and older (4–5 years) children,” the study’s authors wrote in their conclusion to their paper, published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal.
“We assumed that children who ate a lot of healthy foods would also be children who did not eat a lot of unhealthy foods. I just thought that was the way the world was and it turned out not to be the case,” said Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at OSU, and team leader of the research project.
Researchers collected data in 2012 and 2013 as part of a larger study; they interviewed parents or guardians of 357 children between the ages of two and five, and asked them to recall their children’s food and drink consumption over the previous seven days.
‘No link between patterns of consumption’
According to the study, around half the children ate fruit two or more times a day, and more than a third ate vegetables multiple times a day. But around two-thirds of the children drank high-sugar soft drinks, and 71% ate fast food – with no link between the two patterns of consumption.
The study’s authors said this built on British research which suggested different factors were behind children’s consumption of healthy “core foods” and unhealthy “non-core foods”. They noted that future research should consider positive and negative aspects of diet separately.
“This suggests that we have to have two conversations. There has been a kind of assumption there that if you encourage people to adopt healthy eating that it naturally leads to a decline in unhealthy eating,” said Phyllis Pirie, professor of health behaviour and health promotion at OSU and co-author of the study.
Because the study’s participants were “relatively geographically and socioeconomically homogeneous” according to its authors, they said it was hard to say how far their conclusions could be applied more generally. OSU said a wider study to investigate these findings was already underway.
Source: Maternal and Child Health Journal
Published: December 2015, doi: 10.1007/s10995-015-1788-9
“Interrelationships of More Healthful and Less Healthful Aspects of Diet Quality in a Low-Income Community Sample of Preschool- Aged Children”
Authors: Anderson, S E; Kaye, G; Andrige, R; Smathers, C; Peng, J; Pirie, P