UIUC studies link between toddler food access and development

by Terri Dee
    Illinois News Connection

CHICAGO - Parents wanting to ensure their children have nutritious meals can serve as their best example, according to new data.

Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign involved looking at study participants' amount and availability of unhealthy beverages and food in their households. A Home Food Inventory -- a checklist of 190 items in 13 food categories used to monitor the food environment -- found processed foods, candy and microwaveable items were more attainable.

Jenny Barton, assistant research professor for the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University, said the study focused on the physical development of toddlers.

Children often imitate their parents when it comes to food choices.

"The two-year-olds in this study are gaining mobility -- they're gaining autonomy -- to be able to walk around the house," Barton pointed out. "And then I think by age four, they are starting to be able to reach for things in the home, in the kitchen."

The home food inventory further examined how the location of fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, freezer and inside cabinets can hinder a toddler's access to them, how often foods in the household are consumed, and how parents' interaction with their children during a meal affects a child's food habits.

Children often imitate their parents when it comes to food choices. A U.S. Department of Health report said it can take up to 10 attempts before children accept a new food. Barton noted her work followed the consumption of whole grains and refined grains. She concluded refined grains are eaten more often by children because parents tend to buy it more often.

"They're just not purchasing them, to the degree that we would like to see people purchasing whole grains," Barton emphasized. "That's probably helping explain some of that phenomenon in terms of children having similar diets as their parents."

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 report showed unhealthy dietary patterns starting at age 2-18 may lead to obesity and a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease in later life. The publication also advised parents to reduce or eliminate cereals with added sugar, switch from fried to roasted vegetables and substitute high-sodium meats with ground lean meats.