No room for hypocrisy in healthy eating message, says researcher

IF you are overweight and telling your child to eat healthily, it could be futile.

Research has found children can identify hypocrisy in the healthy eating message.

Curtin University health psychologist Barbara Mullan said knowledge of healthy eating did not change behaviours and parents who did not model healthy habits for their children were unlikely to help establish good eating habits in their children.

Dr Mullan, who co authored the report with universities in the United States and Poland, found the role of parents’ behaviours should be taken into account when considering adolescents’ obesity prevention and treatment programs.

“Verbal pressure doesn’t work,” Dr Mullan said.

“Kids can sense hypocrisy; if you are overweight your children can see that.”

The report states in the last 30 years obesity has doubled in adolescents and quadrupled in children.

It said 13.4 per cent to 21.7 per cent of preadolescents and adolescents are overweight or obese.

Even though this increase in obesity prevalence in Europe has slowed slightly within the last decade, it still remains high and continues to increase.

Dr Mullan said children’s weights had plateaued and adult obesity continued to increase at a slow rate.

She said there was no room to be lax about healthy eating, and urged holistic strategies to combat family-wide obesity.

“The biggest indicator of being an overweight adult is being an overweight child,” she said.

“We don’t have room to be complacent, there needs to be a focus of positive framing and what that it depends on the kids.”

Emotional eating and habits were major factors in addressing behaviour and changing opinions of food.

Dr Mullan said making fruit and vegetables fun was an important way to shift the focus on fruit to positive.

“There needs to be a shift in attitude…we have a terrible tendency to label food as good or bad, there is blanket thinking that having chocolate is throwing in the diet.

“There is nothing wrong with an incidental treat; you have to manage your own expectations.”