Like Parent, Like Child: Child Food and Beverage Choices During Role Playing | Pediatrics | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
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November 3, 2008

Like Parent, Like Child: Child Food and Beverage Choices During Role Playing

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Community Health Research Program, Hood Center for Children and Families (Drs Sutherland and Dalton), Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (Drs Sutherland and Dalton and Ms Bernhardt), and Department of Community and Family Medicine (Dr Dalton), Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire; Department of Statistical Science, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (Mr Beavers); Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Dr Kupper); and Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (Dr Heatherton).

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(11):1063-1069. doi:10.1001/archpedi.162.11.1063

Objective  To examine food and beverage choices of preschool-aged children.

Design  Semistructured observational study. While pretending to be adults during a role-play scenario, children selected food and beverage items from a miniature grocery store stocked with 73 different products, of which 47 foods and beverages were examined in this analysis. Parents self-reported how frequently they purchased specific grocery items.

Setting  A behavioral laboratory.

Participants  One hundred twenty children, aged 2 to 6 years, and 1 parent for each child.

Main Outcome Measure  Children's total purchases were classified according to the number of healthier and less healthy products they selected as least healthy, somewhat healthy, and most healthy choices. The same categories were used to classify parents' self-reported purchases.

Results  Most of the children (70.8%) purchased foods that were categorized as least healthy choices. Only 13 children (10.8%) had shopping baskets consisting of the healthiest choices. On average, children in the group with the least healthy choices purchased the same number of healthier and less healthy products, whereas children in the group with most healthy choices purchased 5 healthier products for each less healthy product selected. The healthfulness of children's total purchases were significantly (P = .02) predicted by their parents' purchasing categorization.

Conclusions  When presented with a wide array of food products, young children chose combinations of healthier and less healthy foods and beverages. The data suggest that children begin to assimilate and mimic their parents' food choices at a very young age, even before they are able to fully appreciate the implications of these choices.