A national survey of 1,000 Australian parents, reveals one in two parents are 'extremely' or 'very' concerned (55%) about their children's nutrition yet 70% of parents don't know or are unsure of what the recommended daily nutrition guidelines are.
The survey, undertaken in May 2016, also reports parents are overwhelmingly concerned about the amount of sugar in children's diet, and highlights the majority of our children as being fussy eaters.
In the first national Swisse Kids Health Report, Australian parents of 2-12 year olds were asked to list their main dietary concerns, with 45% of parents surveyed saying they are 'extremely' or 'very' concerned about the amount of sugar in their kids diet and a further one-third (32%) -moderately' concerned. On the same scale, other serious dietary concerns include -too much processed food' (36%), -fussy eating' (33%), -too much food with additives (26%) and -lacking essential vitamins' (21%).
Fussy eating appears increasingly widespread among our youngsters, with two in every three children aged 2-8 years described as a fussy eater (66% of boys and 68% of girls), and 59% of 2-12 year olds.
Half of parents (51%) 'regularly' or 'sometimes' give their kids food that is not nutritionally ideal just so they will eat, with 44% of parents agreeing with the statement that 'it's better they eat something than nothing'.
'The Swisse Kids Health Report was undertaken to provide a current look into mealtimes in households across Australia and to hear what parents perceive as the number one concerns when it comes to their children's diet and nutrition," says Swisse Head of Technical Innovation, Antoinette-Louise Barnardo.
'The results of the survey demonstrate what some of us experience in our own households. Busy parents are struggling daily to get their kids to eat enough of the right foods, and as a result are extremely concerned they aren't getting enough nutrients."
So what do our kids like to eat? It appears fruit is the number one choice (56%) closely followed by ice cream and chips (both 53%), chocolate (52%), chicken (51%), cheese (48%) and lollies (38%).
Vegetables were the least liked food for children (43%), followed by fish (30%) and meat (20%). This is consistent with a National Health Survey which found that only 5.4% of children met the Australian Dietary Guidelines for serves of vegetables, with children aged 2-18 years consuming on average only 1.9 serves of vegetables daily.
Parents of fussy eaters are more likely to give their children vitamins (52% compared to 46% of all parents). The key reasons cited for using children's supplements was for -overall health improvement' (53%), -not getting enough recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals from diet' (33%) and sickness e.g. Vitamin C for colds and flu (32%). Three quarters of parents surveyed (74%) said they would prefer vitamins that do not contain sugar.
The survey also explored what the current family mealtime looks like, and revealed the traditional family dinner is alive and well across Australian households with most families reporting that they eat evening meals together (90%). The average meal preparation time was half an hour (53%), with one in five families preparing last night's meal in 15 minutes or less (21%) and one in four parents spending an hour or more (26%).
Swisse Kids Health Report – Additional Findings:
Food Preparation and Nutrition:
Parents who prepare food 'most days' consider the nutritional content of meals 'always' (83%)
Parents who give their children vitamins are more likely to be 'extremely' or 'very' concerned about their children's nutrition (61%)
Dietary guidelines for nutrition:
Parents who give their children vitamins are more likely (36%) to know the daily nutrition guidelines than parents who do not give their children vitamins.
Boys 2 to 8 years have 19% less vegetables and legumes than recommended and 20% less grains than recommended. They eat 17% more protein (lean meat, fish etc.) than recommended.
Girls 2 to 8 years have 11% less vegetables and legumes and 9% less grains than recommended.
9 to 12 year olds generally have a more balanced diet than 2 to 8 year olds.
30% of fussy eaters dislike particular tastes, textures, smells and colours of food while around one-quarter (26%) don't like vegetables and some fruits.
Girls 9 to 12 years are more likely to avoid food with tastes, textures smells etc (41%), while 9 to 12 year old boys are more likely to avoid vegetables (32%)
Kids who are given vitamins are more likely to be fussy eaters (67%) than those who are not given vitamins (32%). Parents are likely to be using vitamins to aid the diet of their kids who are fussy eaters.
Food Intolerances and Kids Diets:
One in six (17%) of kids have a food intolerance of specific diet
The most common diet issues are allergies (29%), vegetarian diet (26%) and gluten free (22%)
Around one in two (49%) of parents think their kids with food intolerance or special diets are missing out in vitamins and minerals
Over half (59%) of parents who think their kids are missing out on vitamins or minerals give them vitamins
Overall Diet Concerns:
Only 10% of parents are 'not concerned' about the amount of sugar in their kids diet
The Family Meal:
Most families with kids aged 2 to 12 years eat together as a family 7 nights a week (44%), 5-6 nights a week (33%), 4-5 nights a week' (15%), 'less than 3 nights a week' (5%), -varies too much to say (4%)
47% 'always' eat the same meal as kids while 34% 'often' eat the same meal as kids
Parents who have kids who are fussy eaters are less likely to 'always' eat the same meal as their kids 39%
The average number of different meals made at dinner is 1.8
The most common types of vitamins used are Multivitamin (67%), Vitamin C (28%), Omega 3 (21%)
One-third (32%) of parents are concerned about sugar in vitamins, 46% are not concerned about sugar and 22% did not know that children's vitamins contain sugar
42% of parents who give their kids vitamins use them daily and 27% use them 'several times a week'
Question: What is The Swisse Kids Health Report?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: Perhaps that parents of fussy eaters are more like to give their children vitamins (52% compared to 46% of all parents). That highlights the fact that parents may see vitamins as a solution to fill the potential nutrition gaps from poor eating.
That our children chose fruit as their number one choice. That's very encouraging, given that junk food and foods containing sugar is so prevalent, readily available and accessible to children.
Question: What did you hope to find through The Swisse Kids Health Report?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: The report was comprehensive, and our aim was to look at all aspects of children's nutrition from food preparation through to food preferences, child behaviours, e.g. fussy eaters and also the level of knowledge of nutrition out there.
Question: What are the basic nutritional guidelines for kids?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: The Australian Dietary Guidelines is a great source of information and recommends that children and adults should eat sufficient nutritious foods and be physically active to meet their energy needs, healthy weight and overall health. Something I agree with.
Variety is key for children so it's important to ensure that nutrients from various sources of a balanced diet are obtained. It's always wise to encourage children to eat a variety of foods from vegetables, legumes, beans, fruit, nuts, wholegrains, reduced fat dairy products (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese) and lean meats and fish. It's a good idea to encourage children to drink plenty of water.
It's advisable to avoid/limited fast foods, which are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar and low in fibre and because fibre plays an important role in keeping children fuller for longer, thus avoiding any unnecessary snacking of unhealthy foods.
Question: How can parents combat the amount of sugar in their children's diet?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: The report demonstrated that most parents are overwhelmingly concerned about the amount of sugar in their children's diets. Many of these foods also contain bad fats that can increase the risk of childhood obesity and conditions of Type-2 diabetes. Discretionary choices are important when choosing foods high in sugar, and I feel that we need to be realistic in our approach and allow these foods sometimes in small amounts only because they are not essential or necessary as part of dietary patterns.
Parents can also minimise sugar by following some simple guidelines by:
1. Ensuring their children get the recommended serves of the five food groups (1) vegetables/legumes/beans, 2) Grains/cereal/fibre, 3) lean meats, 4) fruit and 5) reduced fat dairy) for their age group to combat cravings or deficiencies.
2. Ensuring that children drink enough water, as thirst can often be mistaken for hunger.
3. Ensuring that children have healthy alternatives as snacks e.g. grated or thinly sliced carrot, sweet baby peas served frozen in a cup or sliced fruit with yoghurt or homemade banana bread as dessert options.
Question: What are your top tips for dealing with fussy eaters?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: We know that fussy eaters dislike particular tastes, textures, smells and colours of foods so it's important to introduce a variety of foods often and repetitively from a young age. It may take up to 10-15 times of seeing food on a plate before a child may decide to give it a try. It's worth encouraging tasting, touching and smelling of foods and a good idea to put new foods next to familiar foods your child already likes.
Make mealtimes pleasant because stress-free environments have an impact on a child's experience of meal times. Mealtimes need to be happy and social and it's a great idea to praise your child for trying new foods or eating healthy foods. Keep it fun by cutting foods into shapes and encourage children to participate in the preparation of meals, e.g. whisking the eggs or making a salad.
Realistic expectations are a good guide too. Parents can encourage children to try mouthfuls of all the foods on their plate as opposed to eating or finishing the whole meal in one go.
It's important that the same meal is served to all members of the family to avoid interference with daily routines and for parents to avoid expressing their own likes or dislikes of certain foods. It's often best to ignore fussiness and not giving fussy behaviour patterns or expression unnecessary attention.
It's a good idea to avoid ready-made meals, which contain more sugar and less nutrients and to avoid having meals in front of the television to ensure a healthy social environment at mealtimes.
It is also worth remembering that children may refuse food because it gets an interesting reaction from parents, so it's important to remember that testing boundaries are part of growing up and of social, intellectual and emotional development.
Question: What's most common at mealtimes in Australian households?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: It was very encouraging to see that most families with kids aged 2-12 years eat together as a family 7 nights a week.
It's also good to see that 47% of parents eat the same meal as their kids at mealtimes.
I was impressed that 83% of parents considered the nutritional content of meals 'most days" when preparing meals for their family.
Question: How can parents fill important nutritional gaps in their children's bodies?
Antoinette-Louise Barnardo: Nutritional gaps are best filled with healthy food and nutrition, so encouraging healthy meals, snacks and a balanced diet from a wide variety of foods is most important.
However, when children are nutrient deficient, this may impact their physical and developmental growth and make them susceptible to certain chronic disease or food allergies.
Always consult your HCP (health care practitioner) for advice if you suspect your child is not getting all the necessary nutrients to thrive.
If your HCP recommends a multivitamin, choose one that is designed for your child's age group and provides 100% of the Daily Value of vitamins and minerals. Keep multivitamins out of reach of children and make it clear that they aren't candy.
Common vitamin deficiencies include:
• Vitamin D, which comes in small amounts from food but the body requires sunlight to make vitamin D. Not getting enough may lead to rickets and bone disease and supplementation may assist in filling the gaps
• Vitamin B12 is needed for brain growth and assists with red blood cell production
• Calcium – for bone, teeth and muscle development
• Iodine – for healthy mental development and is essential for normal growth and tissue development
• Iron (may be low when following vegan or vegetarian diets) may result in loss of appetite
• Zinc can slow a child's growth and impair their immune systems to ward off colds and flu and promote wound healing
Interview by Brooke Hunter