Moms Matter for Childhood Nutrition (But They Need Help)

  • Article
  • August 18, 2016

Milk Life is proud to support Team USA as they head to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games and the world will be watching. Competing for Team USA in the Olympic Games takes singular focus and determination, training countless hours and eating well for peak performance -- which would not be possible without the dedicated support from caregivers and parents. Results of a new survey revealed that nine out of 10 current and retired U.S. Olympians grew up drinking milk – and most say their mom was the one who encouraged their milk drinking habits.

Parents are the primary gatekeepers of food in a family and shoulder most of the responsibility for feeding their children and modeling healthy lifestyle habits. They need the support of health professionals, schools and others to execute this role well, because we are beginning to understand that the quality of early life nutrition can have a significant impact on a child’s future risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Eating behaviors learned in childhood often continue into adulthood. Unfortunately, most children are not meeting recommendations for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods, according to 2007-2010 consumption data. Parents and caregivers can directly influence the dietary choices of children, as many studies have shown. A recent cross-sectional analysis of nearly 700 children ages 6-12 years and their parents underscores this. Results showed that parent’s diet quality was the strongest predictor of child diet quality as measured by the Healthy Eating Index-2010 and scored adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) healthy eating pattern.

Planning and preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a family can be exhausting, and busy parents can benefit from all the help they can get. During the school year and even in the summer, USDA child nutrition programs can assist.

“School meals continue to help fight child hunger, promote health and prepare students to thrive in the classroom,” said Dr. Katie Wilson, who serves as USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in the department that administers USDA’s 15 federal nutrition assistance programs.

Over the past seven years, USDA has updated its nutrition programs, the most recent being a revision of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which consists of meal patterns that will improve access to healthy beverages, including low-fat and fat-free milk and water, for young children attending day care programs, as well as improve the wellness of adult participants. The CACFP nutrition standards is yet another way to assist parents in establishing healthy eating habits early for their children.

Join me in celebrating caregivers and parents who work hard to support their families and feed them well, whether they are raising future U.S. Olympians or not. As health and wellness professionals, we can help families by providing resources, tools and healthful recipes to support wellness.

To further your own knowledge about the latest in child health, check out this resource for a recap of presentations at the Childhood Health and Nutrition Research Conference hosted together by the USDA Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center and National Dairy Council.