Family Eating Behaviors are Continuing to Improve.

In the midst of the childhood obesity epidemic and with a majority of American kids lacking the critical nutrients for healthy growth and development, the preliminary results of a new survey on family eating habits, attitudes and physical activity has been released—outlining positive changes as well as opportunities.  The American Dietetic Association Foundation's 2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey reveals significant positive changes in eating patterns, meal and snack purchases and family patterns that are related to healthier weights in children. 

Registered dietitian Dr. Katie Brown, national education director for the ADA Foundation, said: "Families are making progress towards improving the quality of their diets, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that children and families are getting the adequate amounts of the right foods and nutrients. For instance, children know what not to eat, but less than 25% of children and parents could name the foods they should eat the most.

"The good news is that parents are interested in meeting with a registered dietitian, who has the expertise essential to success and who can help them build upon what they already know about nutrition and apply it to their eating behaviors with skills and techniques from shopping and cooking to eating," Brown said. Below are some of the survey's key findings:

Family Influence

  • Since 2003, there has been a significant increase in daily family meals eaten at home, from 52% in 2003 to 73% in 2010. Additionally, 72.9% of children are eating at home on all five school nights, compared to 51.9% in 2003.
  • Top reasons parents are interested in meeting with registered dietitians focus on feeding their families—preparing healthy meals, what foods their children should be consuming more often, grocery shopping and reading food labels, and how food affects health.

Nutrition Knowledge

  • Less than 25% of parents and their children correctly identified grains as the food group from which the most servings should be consumed daily. The most common answer was vegetables (47.4% of Caucasian parents, 45.0% of African-​American and 31.1% of Hispanic parents; 25.0% of Caucasian and 25.4% of African-​American children) except for Hispanic children who selected meats, fish, poultry and beans (22.8%).
  • Parents ranked registered dietitians and doctors as very reliable sources for information about healthy eating and being physically active, more than other sources.

Eating Behaviors

  • A majority of families are not eating at fast food or sit-​down restaurants often, with 51.4% of Caucasian, 56.5% of African-​American and 63.8% of Hispanic kids reporting that their families eat there less than once a week or never. In comparison, children eating at fast food or sit-​down restaurants three times a week or more include 9.3% of Caucasian children, 17.9% of African-​American children and 13.2% of Hispanic children.
  • 58% of Caucasian children report eating breakfast daily; 41% of African-​American and 58% of Hispanic children said they eat breakfast all of the time.
  • Children eat while doing other activities including homework, watching television, playing computer games and talking on the phone. About one-​fourth of children eat while watching TV and a similar number said they eat after dinner all or most of the time.

Physical Activity

  • The majority of kids report that they would be more physically active if fun activities were offered before school (59 to 79%), during class (80 to 89%) or after school (77 to 92%).  Further, kids said they would be more active if there were safe places to play in their neighborhood (66 to 86%) and if their peers wanted to do physical activity (87 to 89%).
  • The ADA Foundation's 2010 survey revealed a 93% increase since 2003 in the number of children being physically active with their parents three or more days a week. While a significant improvement, the rate of activity is still much lower than national recommendations of physical activity.
[Source:  2010 Family Nutritional and Physical Activity Survey.  The American Dietetic Association Foundation.  9, Nov. 2010.  Web.  12 Nov. 2010.]