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13 January 2020

Change eating habits of pre-schoolers and lower their risk of obesity

Research from King’s College London find there are certain modifiable behaviours in preschool children who are high risk of developing obesity that could prevent childhood obesity and contribute to public health strategies changes.

pre-school food

In the first of its kind, a study published in Pediatric Obesity found that children of mothers with obesity who had eating habits of snacking processed foods have a higher chance of obesity later in life. In contrast, they found children who ate slower and had either a heathier dietary intake or a traditional African/Caribbean diet had a lower risk.

25% of pre-school children in the UK are currently overweight or obese. As children of obese mothers are at risk of developing obesity themselves, there is a need for public health guidelines which are tailored to the individual needs of obese women and their children, to help manage the current obesity epidemic.

Researchers from the School of Life Course Sciences asked obese mothers of three-year-old children to complete a food frequency and eating behaviour questionnaire of their child’s dietary intake. The food frequency questionnaire included 85 different foods, from the following food groups: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish carbohydrates, snacks, desserts and drinks and the eating behaviour questionnaire assesses eight different dimensions of eating style, including food approach and food avoidance behaviours.

Using the child’s eating behaviours and dietary patterns they were able to look at relationships with measures of body composition and obesity in the children.  They then grouped together food items which were highly correlated and defined 3 dietary patterns: “processed/snacking”, “healthy/prudent” and “African/Caribbean”, which reflects the ethnic diversity of the study cohort

They found that eating habits, including slower eating and following a healthy dietary intake which includes foods, such as brown bread and pasta, white fish and chicken, fruit and vegetables all contribute to lower levels of obesity in three-year children born to obese mothers.

On the other hand, following a dietary intake which is high in processed and snack foods, such as crisps, chocolate, pizza and chips was associated with higher rates of obesity in the children.

Lead author, Dr Kathryn Dalrymple, School of Life Courses Sciences said: “These are important findings as by intervening when the child is young and improving their overall dietary intake and by slowing down their meals times it may help with managing weight and reducing obesity.”

The researchers are now calling for changes to current guidelines to include advice on eating habits and behaviours in children of obese mothers.

“The number of obese children is growing across the UK. Current UK guidelines for the prevention of childhood obesity, from the Childhood Obesity Action Plan, recommend identification of populations at risk and early engagement, yet there is very little advice on eating habits and behaviours. These findings provide evidence on the role of modifiable eating habits which could be assimilated into public health policy.”