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Parents uncertain about young children’s dietary transitions, IFIC survey shows

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-09-25  Views: 9
Core Tip: A majority of parents of children under 24 months old are confident that they are feeding them an age-appropriate and nutritious diet, a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has found.
A majority of parents of children under 24 months old are confident that they are feeding them an age-appropriate and nutritious diet, a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has found. However, in addition to these positive findings, the survey also uncovered parents’ underlying concerns around issues like what foods to introduce into their kids’ diets and when. The survey, funded by the US National Yogurt Association, points to the need for clear, unambiguous information on what constitutes good children’s nutrition.
The survey included 1,001 parents with children from birth to 24 months (“B to 24”) and found that 53 percent are “very confident” that they are feeding their child an age-appropriate, nutritious diet, while another 44 percent are at least somewhat confident. However, some parents did express concerns and confusion about what they feed their children. 
When it comes to introducing children to solid foods, 55 percent of surveyed parents say that choking hazards are a major concern, with 38 percent concerned about the potential for allergic reactions. 
A further 21 percent say a major concern was what foods to introduce, and 24 percent say when to introduce them. For those with children less than six months old, the number was even higher (33 percent).
Notably, the survey uncovers the need for further dietary guidance for children under 24 months and clear information on healthy eating, as the surveyed parents indicated they are less than fully satisfied with the amount of information and guidance currently available. 

According to IFIC’s survey, pediatricians are the primary source of information, cited by 77 percent of parents as a top source, followed by advice from their mother or mother-in-law (32 percent) and other family members (30 percent). Also striking is the number of children whose child care provider has at least some impact on the child’s diet (79 percent).

“What we feed our children as infants and babies can make a big difference in their health and dietary habits as they grow older,” says Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, Vice President of Research and Partnerships at the IFIC Foundation.

“The good news is that nearly 90 percent are following their primary source’s advice at least most of the time, and the vast majority of the time it’s a pediatrician. The significant impact of a child care provider on a child’s diet also speaks to the need to ensure nutrition messages are communicated to everyone providing care.”

The top reasons cited for not following advice include not agreeing with it (53 percent) and that a child’s eating habits or behavior makes it difficult (47 percent).

For the youngest set eating baby food and solids, half (51 percent) of parents say giving them an appropriate amount of vegetables is a top priority.

An appropriate amount of protein (41 percent) was the next most important goal, followed by exposing them to new foods (38 percent), an appropriate amount of fruits (34 percent) and foods they enjoy (33 percent).

Nutrition is by far the top driver (62 percent say “very important”) impacting purchasing habits, followed by exposing a child to a variety of food tastes and flavors (42 percent). Knowing that their child enjoys eating the food was cited by 39 percent.

One area of concern and confusion was the milestones and transitions from one food to another. Overall, 68 percent of parents introduce baby foods at about six months or older, 90 percent introduce solids between six and 12 months, and 79 percent tend to start cow’s milk at about 12 months.

However, there are gaps between when parents expected to introduce certain foods, and when they actually did so.

Twenty percent expected to introduce baby foods at 12 months or older, while only 10 percent did (the majority having done so long before); 17 percent expected to introduce cheese at 18 months, while only 6 percent did; and 24 percent expected to introduce yogurt at 18 months or older, while only 5 percent did. There were similar gaps for other foods.

Parents also closely weigh advantages and disadvantages of what they feed their children. For instance, the foods perceived as most nutritious, chosen among a list, were pureed green beans (25 percent), milk (22 percent) and yogurt (18 percent). Cheese led the list of foods considered least healthy, chosen by 34 percent.

Yet parents saw advantages even in foods that many perceived as less healthy. “Taste” or “because a child enjoys it” was seen as an advantage by 74 percent when it came to cheese. In some other foods, taste and enjoyment were also cited as greater advantages than some of the top-cited nutrition concerns.

These findings show that taste remains king, but give suppliers a clear indication that parents are searching for good nutrition offerings for their little ones that tick the boxes in terms of their health demands.

The survey was conducted by Greenwald & Associates, using ResearchNow’s consumer panel.


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