Apparently the apple does fall far from the tree - at least when it comes to eating apples.

In what researchers have called a surprising study, it seems as though mom and dad's healthy eating doesn't rub off on their offspring as much as once thought. The study, authored by Dr. Youfa Wang, and published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, showed only a weak correlation between parents and their children's eating habits.

Study Highlights

  • Wang found that children whose parents ate a healthier diet (and they were a small minority) were three times more likely to have a healthy diet, compared to the kids whose parents did not have a very healthy diet.
  • The findings suggest that other factors, such as peer influence and television viewing may be more powerful influences on what children eat.
  • Researchers looked at the food intake of nearly 5,000 persons -- 1,061 fathers, 1,230 mothers, and almost 1,700 children.
  • Dietary intake was assessed and compared to diet quality based on the USDA Healthy Eating Index Score. A perfect score is 100, and the index takes into account a person's intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, meat, beans, oils, saturated fat and sodium.
  • The average score of the parents and children was around 48 to 50, well below the score of above 80, which the USDA deems a good diet.
  • Only 10 percent of Americans got a score greater than 80 in 2000.
  • According to Wang, the variation in children's diet which could be explained by their parent's diet was less than 10 percent. 90 percent of the variation in the children's diet was explained by factors other than the parent's diet.


Putting nutrition aside for a minute, there is a more systemic issue facing our society in the parental influence on youngsters in general. I'm sensing that there is an issue with two working parents, a greater preponderance of single parents, and thus less time and consequently less influence on children.

When you take a look at what replaces parents as influences - media, school and peers - it is no wonder that their nutritional habits are falling by the wayside.

What we can do about it

  • Parental influence can only begin to take shape when parents actually spend more time with their children.
  • Once the parent decides to commit to a healthy lifestyle, it is a matter of not only role-modelling but also reinforcing why they choose to eat this way (this will be important as healthy eating is almost counter-culture).
  • Involve children in cooking, choosing fresh fruit and veggies, and give simplified explanations as to why their bodies likes those types of foods.
  • I feel it is important not to be over the top with healthy eating i.e.. not controlling or banning junk food. This can easily backfire and cause children to rebel later on.
  • In the end, all you can do is be a role model and guide, and educate your children about healthy living as best as you can.

The chips will fall where they may, but I can guarantee that the end result will be more positive if we take these steps.

What are your thoughts? How do you ensure your children eat healthy foods?