Research from Maastricht UMC+ on the influence that parents can have

How to curb children's snacking habits

If parents are highly involved and supportive, their children are more likely to forego snacks and other unhealthy junk foods. These are the findings of the doctoral research project carried out by Dorus Gevers at Maastricht UMC+.

snackgedrag kinderen

Most children in the Netherlands consume too many energy-dense snacks and beverages. Dutch children aged 7 to 12 years eat an average of 3.3 snacks per day, amounting to 375 kcal. The average intake of sugary drinks is 594.2 ml per day, equalling 176 kcal. This adds up to a total energy intake of 551 kcal per day.

It is no secret that excessive consumption of energy-dense snacks is unhealthy for everyone, including children. It leads to overweight and (morbid) obesity, further increasing the risk of various chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. The tricky part is obviously not letting it get that far. It is therefore necessary to promote healthy eating habits in children, and parents play a crucial role in this. In his doctoral research, Gevers investigated topics such as what works best when it comes to parental behaviour. Based on questionnaires completed by a sample of Dutch parents, he discovered four broad clusters related to parental behaviour: 1. 'high hidden control and reward', 2 'low hidden control and reward', 3 'high involvement and support' and 4 'low involvement and lenience'. The term 'hidden' in 'hidden control' refers to parental behaviour that is not directly visible to the child.

Strict rules
Children of parents who show involvement and provide support appear to consume the least amount of snacks. The most distinctive characteristic of these parents is that they tend to communicate about food and are able to create a 'supportive home environment relating to food'. In concrete terms, this means they ensure that there are simply no snacks at home for children to be tempted by. Additionally, these parents often enforce relatively strict rules regarding snacks, though such rules only work if both parents enforce them consistently. 

Dorus Gevers recently earned his doctoral degree from Maastricht University for his PhD thesis entitled: Parental influences on child snacking: advancing research.

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