The age-old adage, “You are what you eat,” may be changing for kids today. Growing research has begin to show that fathers may have a more important role over the eating habits of their children than previously thought.
Originally reported on by Kim Carollo, ABC News, growing research suggests that fathers play a huge role in the choices their children make when it comes to food. The authors acknowledge that the findings don’t necessarily apply to all families, since they only studied a few hundred families in a limited geographic area. Despite that limitation, nutrition experts not involved in the research said the study was very important.
Researchers analyzed the eating-out habits of more than 300 families with children ages 9 to 11 or 13 to 15. They found that how often fathers ate in fast-food and in full-service restaurants influenced how often their children ate in the same places.
“By far the biggest influence on how often children ate out was the number of times fathers did,” said lead author Alex McIntosh, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University in College Station. “Fathers’ time in and use of fast-food restaurants increased a kid’s likelihood of going to a fast-food restaurant.”
The study found that fathers also influenced how often children ate in fast-food restaurants in other ways. Children whose fathers were more authoritarian were more likely to eat junk food. The children of fathers who believed they didn’t have a lot of control at work and who also placed less value on family meal time were also more likely to eat in fast-food restaurants.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2008, 48 percent of the money spent on food went to pay for meals eaten away from home. In 1974, that number was 34 percent. Other studies have linked this increased spending to the rise in obesity nationwide.
“For years, we’ve heard that moms have the biggest impact on their kids’ food choices, but with mothers becoming more involved in the workplace and fathers’ roles becoming more involved in caregiving at home, it’s natural that kids will start to follow their father’s lead, too,” said Karen Ansel, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
While the study doesn’t address the reasons for these associations, experts believe that it has something to do with fathers’ desire to spend more time with their children.
The Men’s Divorce Law Firm has posted before on the benefits of sitting down for dinner as a family, from positive communication to bonding time. However, more than ever, fathers and mothers need to keep in mind the example they set for their children when it comes to lifelong habits that can affect their overall well-being and health.