Online Exclusives

Teach the Children Well(ness)

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | December 13, 2012

IFIC survey finds parents put more emphasis on their children’s diet and exercise needs, but neglect their own health in the process.

At a time when kids are easily seduced by calorie-laden junk food and sedentary online lifestyles, parents are working hard to ensure their children are eating healthy and getting regular exercise. But according to results from the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s "2012 Food & Health Survey," parents are doing it at the expense of their own health.
“Parents are being responsible and conscientious when it comes to the needs of their children, but less so in terms of their own health,” said Marianne Smith-Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, senior vice president, Nutrition and Food Safety, IFIC Foundation. “In some ways, parents have significantly different beliefs and priorities than non-parents and these differences are important in terms of designing effective messaging to better equip them to achieve a more healthful lifestyle.”
The survey polled 1,057 participants; 29% were adults ages 18-49 with children younger than 18. On most questions about health and diet, parents held very similar views as non-parents in that same age range and to the overall population. 
Among the topline dietary observations, the 2012 survey results underscored an ongoing confusion among parents regarding the role of calorie consumption as it pertains to maintaining a healthy weight. Generally, the 2012 survey was consistent with the 2010 survey, which also found that only 16% of parents thought they had a “very or extremely healthful diet,” while nearly 70% said they worried more about the healthfulness of the foods and beverages they bought for their children than those they bought for themselves.
A majority (87%) of parents believed that it is good for their health to sit down and eat meals with their family. With the approaching holiday season, Ms. Smith-Edge said parents could positively impact their own health and that of their children by basing meals on nutrient-rich foods with fewer calories, such as fruits and vegetables, whole and enriched grains, lean meats, beans and nuts, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. “Holiday gatherings also are a great time to recognize that fun activities count as exercise and to make a habit of getting active as a family,” she said. “Whether it’s collecting donations for a local food bank, dancing around the house or simply taking a walk in the neighborhood to enjoy the holiday decorations, the holidays allow for quality time together as a family. These activities also set a great example for the kids.”
The survey also revealed some interesting dietary and exercise viewpoints that separated parents from non-parents. Only 16% of parents thought they had a “very or extremely healthful diet,” compared to 23% of non-parents. Thirty-six percent of parents were more likely to be obese than non-parents (28%), thought more parents reported trying to lose weight (60%) than non-parents (55%). 
Although both groups held similar views about the importance of taste, price, convenience and sustainability in food buying decisions, parents (54%) were less likely than non-parents (63%) to say that healthfulness had a strong impact on their decisions about what to buy.

Parents were also more likely than non-parents to say that concerns about foodborne illnesses (54% vs. 43%) or the safety of imported foods (49% vs. 38%) have impacted the foods they purchase. On the other hand, they show no difference in their concern over chemicals in food, pesticides, animal antibiotics or undeclared allergens.  
While parents and non-parents were just as likely to buy foods that were advertised as local or organic, featured recyclable packaging, generated donations to charitable causes, or rated high in terms of sustainability, parents were more likely than non-parents (40% vs. 32%) to buy food with the word “natural” on the label on a regular basis. 
Perhaps surprisingly, parents were less likely than non-parents to look at several aspects of packaging when deciding what foods to buy, including expiration dates (67% vs. 77%), the Nutrition Facts panel (59% vs. 68%), ingredients lists (41% vs. 51%) and cooking instructions/preparation time (38% vs. 47%). 
As it related to exercise, parents were less likely than non-parents to report giving a lot of thought to the amount of physical activity they are getting (58% vs. 66%) and to believe that the amount of physical activity has a positive health benefit (58% vs. 68%). Parents were also less likely than non-parents to describe their level of physical activity as “vigorous” (12% vs. 17%).
For an executive summary of IFIC Foundation’s "2012 Food & Health Survey click this link. The full data tables are available for purchase from the IFIC Foundation Publications Store at

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