Youngsters often miss diet and exercise marks

By Joene Hendry

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - According to their parents, pre-school children have somewhat better diets than school-age children, but both groups fall short when it comes to getting recommended amounts of exercise.

Dr. Hollie A. Raynor, of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and co-investigators, assessed parents’ reports of their children’s diet and activity levels. Of 174 boys and girls, about half (49 percent) were preschoolers (2 to 5.9 years old) and 51 percent were school-age children (6 to 12.9 years).

Parental reports of physical activity levels showed just 51 percent of kids, aged 2 to 12 years old, participated in sweat-inducing play or exercise for the recommended minimum of 60 minutes on most days, they report in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Overall, 47 percent of the school-age kids were at risk for or were overweight, compared with 22 percent of the pre-school age kids, the investigators found.

They also found that fewer pre-school kids ate salty and sweet snacks daily — 14 and 16 percent, respectively. Conversely, reports showed nearly double this intake among school-age kids — about 26 percent ate salty and nearly 30 percent ate sweet snacks daily.

On average, parents’ reported pre-school children ate minimum recommended daily servings of low fat dairy products, but school-age children did not.

Moreover, while kids, regardless of age, minimally met recommended vegetable intake of 1 to 2.5 cups daily, and generally ate the recommended 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit daily, parents reported nearly 74 percent of the children ate fast food at least once a week.

In this study, parents’ perspectives, as a whole, suggest “children’s eating and leisure-time behaviors are not close to meeting current recommendations,” Raynor said.

As unhealthy eating and activity habits tend to increase as children age, Raynor and colleagues surmise, it may be necessary to assist parents of young children establish healthy lifestyle habits before their kids’ start school.

SOURCE: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, January/February 2009

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