Restrictive food budgets may cause children to be fussy eaters, UQ study says

by Freya Lucas

April 18

A study from the University of Queensland (UQ) has found that tight food budgets, where the amount of budget available to be spent feeding young children is limited, may inadvertently be encouraging unhealthy “fussy” eating habits in children.

 

Lead author, Professor Karen Thorpe, said that parents in low-income households were “keenly aware” that uneaten food amounted to extra strain on household financial resources, however the findings are also of interest to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, with many providers giving their food service teams lean budgets to work with when supplying and preparing food for children in centres and services, which may result in similar outcomes to those found in the study.

 

“Parents seeking to avoid waste often give their children a narrow range of foods they know they like and accept, but this can inadvertently limit exposure to a variety of healthy foods,” Professor Thorpe said.

 

The results were found from a study which involved mothers of children between the ages of two and five, living in a low income community in South East Queensland, with surveys issued at childcare centres, playgroups, a family fun day and an immunisation clinic.

 

Eleven per cent of those who responded described themselves as experiencing food insecurity in the past twelve months – meaning they had run out of food and had no financial means to buy more.

 

This group was less likely to have fruit available in their homes, compared to low-income families that didn’t experience food-insecurity, Professor Thorpe said.

 

Families in this group were more likely to prepare separate meals for fussy eaters, which further narrowed the children’s exposure to a variety of healthy foods. Professor Thorpe said children learned to like a wide variety of healthy foods through exposure in their early years, and parents should re-offer rejected healthy food to “fussy” children.

 

“Our study highlights a need for more tailored advice from health professionals, researchers and policymakers to the parents of fussy eaters experiencing economic adversity and food insecurity,” Professor Thorpe said.

 

The research represents Stage 1 of Life Course Centre-funded project, Mealtimes Matter, on food insecurity and food socialisation in low-income communities, and has been published in Appetite.

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