A balanced diet full of healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, is important for a child’s development and helps establish healthy eating habits that last into adulthood.
Yet nearly 70% of Chicago parents reported experiencing at least one challenge to providing healthy meals for their children, according to a new citywide survey of roughly 1,000 parents.
“From parents’ perspective, time and cost are the overall drivers of unhealthy eating in Chicago children,” said Dr. Matt Davis, senior vice president and chief of community health transformation at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, which developed The Healthy Chicago Survey – Junior 2017-18 with the Chicago Department of Public Health.
More than a third of respondents – 36% – said that finding time for sit-down family meals was their top challenge, followed by the cost of healthy foods (33%) and the time it takes to prepare healthy foods (26%). Parents also cited the convenience of fast food (24%) and food advertising (18%) as challenges to providing healthy foods for their children.
Family meals are not only an important aspect of family life, but research has shown they tend to promote healthier eating habits, which can in turn influence how family members manage their weight.
“These challenges might be important factors behind rates of obesity in Chicago, which are higher than national rates,” Davis said in a statement.
In Chicago, obesity occurs in 20% of kindergarten students, nearly 30% of sixth graders and 25% of ninth graders, compared to national rates of 13%, 20% and 17%, respectively, according to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children that is housed at Lurie Children’s.
“Habits of healthy eating and physical activity are important to establish in childhood,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita, in a statement. “If Chicago can successfully address barriers that parents experience in helping their kids eat healthy, we are helping the people of Chicago be healthier in the long term.”
Cost of healthy food was a common challenge among young parents, with 42% of parents ages 18-29 reporting it as an obstacle. Among parents ages 30-44, 33% said it was a concern, while 24% of parents ages 45 and up said it was a challenge.