By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director
Conventional wisdom tells us that to change the eating habits of children, you need to get to the parents. (And I hope that's true, because I'm working hard with my kid.) We talk to people in schools and hear all the time that they can't get their students to try XXXX (fill in the blank here with your favorite veggie, lean meat, or soy-based vegan product) because the kids never had it at home. Schools can't change because they need parents to change first!
But a recent study is challenging this notion.
While the study didn't identify all the factors, it did highlight what seemed to be important areas -- including community and school, food environment, peer influence and television viewing, as well as individual factors such as self-image and self-esteem.
Of course, this is not saying that parents do not affect their kids' nutritional choices, only that parents are among many influences on children's eating and their impact may not be as strong as many believe. Further, it says that "for interventions targeting parents, those would be more effective when targeted at mothers, minority groups, and as early as possible in childhood."
What I take away from this is that focusing in the school environment is as important as ever. Schools can play a major role in shaping children's eating habits, no matter what children are eating at home, watching on TV or talking about with their friends.
And as we know from our community partners, some of the best programs to promote healthy eating at school are those that involve parents as well as students. Our friends at Namaste Charter School, for example, invite parents to attend a weekly Friday breakfast [pdf] that includes tips on relevant health topics. Our own experience working as part of the Partnership to Reduce Disparities in Asthma and Obesity in Latino Schools showed us how powerful parent advocacy can be in bringing about healthy changes throughout entire communities.
We all -- schools included -- play a role in making sure children have healthy meals and are prepared to make healthy choices as they grow older.