‘An increasing number of young children is overweight’, says PhD-candidate Femke Brouwer of Food Quality Design. ‘Previous studies show that it is mostly the mothers that determine what children are fed. To ensure they make healthy choices for their child, it’s important to discern what motivates their choices.’
Brouwer interviewed 136 Dutch mothers of children between 2 and 7 years on what they feed their children and how they weigh their selection. Mothers recorded this information in a logbook during a fortnight. ‘We discovered that mothers raising their first child are more conscientious is choosing healthy snacks. The mothers gave their youngest child different snacks than they were feeding their oldest at the same age. This surprised us’, Brouwer states. ‘There is no previous research on this issue.’
In-depth questioning revealed the mothers had several reasons. Brouwer: ‘A first child is an extra tense experience, something I recognise. Mothers are eager to do the right thing but don’t always know how. So they follow advice meticulously and buy products designed for the appropriate age group, such as toddler-cookies.’
Mothers are more conscientious with their first childPhD-candidate Femke Brouwer of Food Quality and Design
Mothers are a lot more relaxed with their second or third child. Brouwer: ‘In the words of one mother: “it will be fine, the others are still alive after all”. Moreover, the youngest often eats the same snacks as the older sibling. It is difficult for parents to say: you can’t have chocolate, but have a dry cracker instead. Older children in the household also means there is a supply of different snacks than just raisins.’
The different behaviour mothers exhibit towards younger and older children may explain why the youngest is more often overweight. Brouwer feels this insight may help health organisations develop behaviour-altering campaigns. And, it may inspire producers to develop healthier snacks.
She feels repeating this study for the entire population in the future would be interesting. Brouwer: ‘To also discover what role fathers and grandparents play. Fathers are said to be more easy-going, and grandparents spoil their grandchildren. Moreover, that is a generation with an entirely different perspective on nutrition.’