LONDON, July 4, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --
-One in ten parents regularly give pre-school children meals close to the size of adult portions*
-Parents are unaware of the health consequences of feeding too much too often
-#rethinktoddlerportionsizes new campaign sheds light on how much is too much. It's time to rethink our notion of how much food toddlers need
The vast majority of parents are unwittingly giving their toddlers too much food, putting them at risk of obesity according to new research from leading health and nutrition experts - the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF).
The survey of 1000 UK mums and dads (1) revealed that 79%** of parents routinely offer portions bigger than the recommended size range for pre-schoolers when serving popular meals [such as spaghetti bolognaise and chicken nuggets with chips], drinks and treats. The survey, which involved parents looking at images of portion sizes, also revealed that more than 10% of parents usually serve their child close to an adult-size portion of spaghetti bolognaise or cheese sandwiches.
The findings highlighted the emotional complexities of feeding toddlers: 73% are more concerned that their child does not eat enough - twice as likely as they are to be concerned that their child eats too much. Only 25% of parents worry that their child might become overweight in the future. Just a quarter of parents are 'very confident' about the amount of food to give to their child, and younger parents (aged 18-24 years) are significantly less confident than older parents.
There was also a tendency for parents to use food or drink between meals as a pacifier, with 36% of parents using this method to calm children down when they are upset. Experts warn that using food or drink as a reward, to comfort and/or distract encourages young children to rely on food to deal with emotions, teaching them to continue this behaviour in later life (2).
Judy More, Paediatric dietitian and member of the ITF, comments: "Practical advice for parents on appropriate portion sizes for toddlers has been lacking, so it's not surprising, our survey revealed a significant lack of understanding about how much to feed toddlers. With new evidence linking larger portion sizes to excess weight gain (3), it's clear parents need practical advice NOW. The Infant & Toddler Forum, have developed a user-friendly guide to the recommended portion size ranges for children aged 1-4 to help parents take the guesswork out of how much is enough. Visit http://www.infantandtoddlerforum.org/portionsizes to find out more."
Gill Harris, Child and Clinical psychologist and member of the ITF, comments: "It's never too early to start promoting healthy eating habits. Most toddlers are naturally better than older children and adults at regulating their food intake. They usually only eat what they need and don't overeat. However, portion size is critical. It's one of the main ways in which, as parents, we can inadvertently override children's self-regulation systems. Larger portions form our acceptance about what is an appropriate amount to eat and this becomes the "norm". In other words, how much you offer often determines how much your child will eat and habits learned in early life generally tend to persist."
In response to these findings the ITF, supported by 4Children, Family Lives and the Pre-school Learning Alliance, is launching the #rethinktoddlerportionsizes campaign. The campaign aims to encourage all families to rethink how much is on the plates of their young children and is calling for guidance on appropriate portion sizes for families of young children to be a key public health strategy in the fight against obesity.
Visit http://www.infantandtoddlerforum.org/portionsizes to find out more and access practical advice.
Layla Rogers, 29, first-time mum of one, used the portion sizes and said: "I was shocked to find out I was giving my 18 month-old too much food. In fact, I've always worried more about my toddler eating too little than too much and I'd offer additional food and snacks in between meals to reassure myself that she was eating enough. It was really useful to see the actual amounts that should be the norm for toddlers. It's helped me change not just how much food I put on the plate but also some of those feeding habits that are ingrained in all of us such as encouraging children to clean the plate!"
NOTES TO EDITORS
DATA OF 1000 UK PARENTS CONDUCTED APRIL/MAY 2016
- 71% of parents routinely offer their child a bigger portion of crisps than recommended for this age group. More than a third of parents usually offer their preschool child a whole bag of crisps: this is nearly twice the recommended amount
- 65% of parents routinely offer too much squash/fruit juice, with 31% often giving portions that are double the recommended amount for children of this age
- 61% of parents routinely offer their child too many sweets, with 24% of parents giving their child a whole pack of jelly sweets as a treat: this is 3 times the recommended amount
*Adult portions based on SACN 2011 average energy requirements for adults: page 85 of https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/339317/SACN_Dietary_Reference_Values_for_Energy.pdf
**% of parents who chose at least one food portion (meals, drinks and treats) above the recommended range at least once across all the portion size questions
- There are currently 3.9 million children 0 - 4 years old in the UK http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-the-united-kingdom/rft-table-3-census-2011.xls
- One in five children are overweight or obese by the time they start school. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB19109
- Portion size images of popular meals are available from the ITF image bank
- The ITF has a new visual, user-friendly guide to the recommended portion size ranges for children aged 1 - 4. They are website-based tables combined with an image bank, and are a free online resource that can be used as a practical, evidence-based, everyday guide of how much food and drink to offer: http://www.infantandtoddlerforum.org/portion-sizes-table-2015
- Tot It Up, a toddler food tracker giving a summary of a toddler's daily - or more importantly, weekly - food intake compared against current recommendations, together with tips on how to make small changes to maintain the right balance: http://www.infantandtoddlerforum.org/tot-it-up-login
ABOUT THE INFANT & TODDLER FORUM
- The Infant & Toddler Forum brings together an independent, multi-disciplinary team of experts and practitioners from paediatrics, neonatology, health visiting, dietetics, child psychology and midwifery to share new ideas and to debate the latest thinking in infant and toddler nutrition
- The Infant & Toddler Forum is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition. The views and outputs of the group, however, remain independent of Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition and its commercial interest
- Online survey of 1000 UK parents of children aged 1 - 4 years conducted by Health Focus during April/May 2016. Sample was representative of the UK population by SEG, Region and Ethnicity within +/- 3%
- Aston University (2016). 'Rewarding children with food could lead to emotional eating': http://www.aston.ac.uk/news/releases/2016/april/rewarding-children-with-food-could-lead-to-emotional-eating/
- Syrad, H., Llewellyn, C.H., Johnson, L., Boniface, D., Jebb, S.A., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M. & Wardle, J. (2016). 'Meal size is a critical driver of weight gain in early childhood'. Scientific Reports 6: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep28368