Better Educated Parents Mean Healthier Meals for Kids

The level of a parent’s education can have an impact on how healthy a diet their children consume, a new study shows. The findings, published in the latest edition of the Public Health Nutrition journal, are based on the nutritional habits of 14,000 children from 8 countries around Europe.

According to the study’s authors, the less education the children’s parents had, the more likely their kids were to consume foods generally considered “bad” for them such as those high in sugar and fats and low in fiber. Children from families where parents had more years of schooling received more nutritionally sound diets, including those where fat and sugar intakes were strictly controlled and where fruits and vegetables played a bigger role.

Researchers looked at kids in Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Hungary, Germany and Spain. But Katie Chapmon, a registered dietitian for Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, says that trend holds in the U.S. too. It’s not necessarily that people with more education are more knowledgeable specifically about nutrition – many of them aren’t, she said.

“But what we do tend to see is that those who do have the college degree or high school diploma, a higher level of education, tend to be more avid readers,” said Chapmon. “They tend to seek out more information. So that could give them a leg up on the nutrition factor.”

It’s unclear whether it is a lower level of education driving the discrepancy in childhood diets or the fact that those with lower levels of education tend to also have lower levels of income.

Chapmon explained that when money is an issue, parents look at all nutritional decisions not just from point of view of quality, but also of affordability and convenience. When that happens, what is good takes a second place to what is quick and cheap.

On the whole, both income and education levels in South Los Angeles are low – most households make less than $20,000 annually, according to the L.A. Times’ Mapping L.A. project. Additionally, a little more than half of South L.A. residents who are 25 and older haven’t received their high school diploma. About 1 in 5 people in that age group stopped going to school after receiving their high school diploma, and just over 8 percent have a college degree or higher. Chapmon noted that March is National Nutrition Month, and anyone looking to learn more about nutrition – for themselves or their children – can look to the American Academy of Nutrition or the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a starting resource.