Enhancing understanding of child eating behaviour and helping caregivers with feeding ideas
Mealtimes can be an anxious time for many parents and caregivers, as they battle with their children’s eating habits. Over half of the UK’s under-fives are fussy eaters and refuse to eat certain foods. However, many parents/caregivers and healthcare practitioners lack the know-how to manage these dilemmas reacting by controlling access to food or by using food as an inducement, which is counterproductive.
Eighty percent of under-fives fail to consume the daily recommended portions of fruit and vegetables. Studies demonstrate that unhealthy or limited diets contribute to negative health outcomes in adulthood including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Refusal to eat or eating unhealthy diets also causes stress to parents as their instinct is to care and nurture for their children.
Insights from collaborative research into children’s eating behaviours by academic psychologists at Loughborough and Aston Universities from 2001-2018, informed the development of the UK’s first evidence-based digital and interactive Child Feeding Guide (CFG) application in 2012. This resource supports the improvement of healthy eating in small children by their parents/caregivers.
Academics initially explored factors which influence adults’ food choices, and how these were affected by their own childhood feeding experiences. Further research focused on parents’ formative roles in shaping children’s eating practices from birth. The main findings included strategies to change children’s diets and established a clear relationship between controlled feeding and young people’s emotional eating. Crucially, the research demonstrated the need for parents/caregivers to be positive role models to encourage healthier eating, and identified parents’ poor feeding practices that needed changing, and how easily these could be altered.
The understanding of the importance of parents in shaping children’s eating habits has been enhanced. Also, the CFG – underpinned by the research has had a significant impact well beyond academia. The NHS adopted the guide as part of its public health programme; it was added to the NHS health application library – the only source of child feeding to be included, and to Start4life – an initiative that offers practical guidance to prospective parents, families, and professionals to improve the health of under-fives. The CFG was also recommended as a resource on NHS trust web pages by NHS City and Hackney, NHS Northern and Devon and NHs Ayrshire and Aran amongst others. Charities, parents’ groups and other healthcare and family information services have also recommended the application. Over 100,000 people have accessed the Guide – with over 60,000 using the resources since its 2018 relaunch. Many parents reported a need for free, accessible, and credible information parents/caregivers and practitioners need to manage their children’s eating – which the CFG provides.