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Kids and Health Care: You Can Lead by Example

A report published in the journal Public Health Nutrition in early 2004 blamed parents of children who don't eat the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables a day for setting a bad example. Although kids can be stubborn about what they will and won't eat, parental eating habit has a major influence.

"Parental consumption was the strongest predictor of children's consumption," said Lucy Cooke, the report's lead author and a psychologist at University College London. "Setting an example is tremendously influential."

Cooke sent questionnaires to parents of children in 22 nursery schools in Northern England to get an idea of what influences the eating habits of two- to six-year-olds.

What the parents consumed was the biggest influence on kids' diets. But eating together as a family, breastfeeding and introducing a variety of fruits and vegetables early were also important factors.

Cooke stressed that kids will not automatically eat the same foods as their parents but it helps if they see adults and siblings eating nutritious meals. "Eating together as a family is a really good thing," and parents should be vocal about how much they like healthy foods because kids are programmed to imitate their parents in many ways, she added.

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