Nestle Health Study

Nestlé Rainbow Nation Health Monitor study: Parents pass on their bad eating habits and attitudes to their children

According to the Nestlé Rainbow Nation Health Monitor study, two-thirds (63%) of South African parents find it difficult to make sure that their children eat the correct foods and a half say that their children have a lot of say in what they eat at mealtimes. A third of parents claim that their children refuse to eat vegetables.

The good news is that almost all (88%) say that they make sure that their children eat breakfast every day – 90% acknowledge the importance of breakfast in that is ensures that children do better at school.

Part of the problem is that family life in South Africa is changing – 61% of females who are responsible for the children in their home are single. Whilst, in some cases, partners may be present, in many cases the responsible male has long since disappeared, leaving the task of bringing up the children to a single parent.

In an alarming finding, half of parents or guardians rely on a child grant.

The study found that those responsible for children’s nutrition in the home in South Africa fall along a strongly-differentiated spectrum that is distinguished by the degree of control that parents and guardians have over their children. In total, the study divided parents and guardians into four main groups:

1. The disciplinarians and the responsibles make up a half of the sample and tend to be much stricter about what their children eat – they are much less likely to let children have a say over what they eat.

At the most strict end of the spectrum, parents actively limit the salt and fat that their children eat – but this is not what the vast majority of parents do. As one might expect, these parents do not have problems with their children refusing to eat their vegetables but a half do say that it is a challenge to get their children to eat the correct foods. They do not buy ready-made meals for their children and limit their junk food intake.

2. The relaxed and laissez faire groups (who tend to be more male at the most relaxed end of the spectrum) are the ones who feel that it is difficult to make children eat the right foods (though they do claim to teach them what is healthy).

Their children refuse to eat vegetables and they are much more likely to buy ready-made and junk food for their children – eight out of ten in these groups say that their children often eat junk food and sweets. Their children have a lot of influence over what they eat.

The study also shows a strong correlation with the parents’ mindset over their own habits and attitudes and where they fall in terms of the proper nutrition for their children*.

So, for example, 86% of those parents who are the most health conscious fall into the two groups that are strict with their children’s diet. But this drops to only a half for the two least concerned groups – those parents who themselves have a poor knowledge or lack of interest in nutrition and eating properly.

Even more alarming is the group of parents that fall in the Easy Lifers group (those with a frenetic, outgoing and social lifestyle who prefer takeaways, convenience foods and eating out at restaurants; they do not eat enough fruit and vegetables themselves and tend to eat more than they should): 85% of these parents fall into the two relaxed groups and it is likely that these children have poor diets.

Overall, what parents ultimately look for in the foods they give their children are those that ensure that they grow up healthy and strong, that help with brain and mental development, that boost their immune systems and help them to concentrate at school. Some parents have more success than others in achieving these goals.

The study

The study was conducted by TNS South Africa, South Africa’s leading marketing and social insights company, amongst a sample of 3 001 people aged 16 years and across all parts of South Africa in mid-2011. A small questionnaire was also administered to a sub-sample of 286 younger people aged 12 to 15 years. The questionnaires were developed using insights from studies conducted by Nestlé overseas as well as considerable local input – TNS has also been researching people’s overall levels of well-being since 2003 via its Everyday Quality of Life (EQLi) suite of measures.

Click here for more on the six main adult groups the study refers to and their attitudes and behaviours toward nutrition.