Tweens and parents seem to be, by and large, on the same page when it comes to the importance of nutrition and fitness to a healthy lifestyle--although the results also point to some struggles on both sides in terms of behavioral follow-through.
The most significant difference in tween/parent attitudes appears to be that while relationships with family and friends are very important to tweens, they (unlike their parents) don't tend to identify these and other factors relating to mental and emotional well-being--such as relaxation and balance between work and play--as being important aspects of healthy living. In other words, kids are more literal, associating "health" only with bodily health.
The study, conducted earlier this year, involved 157 children ages nine to 11 (recruited through their parents) and 154 parents of children between these ages.
To examine the two groups' similarities and differences in perceptions about healthy lifestyles, BuzzBack used eCollage, a tool that helps tap subconscious attitudes by having participants select from a large group of images to create collages. Kids were asked to create personal collages that illustrate what kinds of things they think about when trying to be healthy; parents created collages illustrating what healthy living for their children means to them. Verbal follow-up questions were used to explore why specific images were chosen and what they signify about health to the individual.
Both parents and tweens gravitated toward images connoting healthy food choices and physical activity, and kids showed clear awareness of what types of foods are healthy and which should be avoided, as well as how important physical activity and exercise are. However, in contrast to parents, very few kids included images relating to relationships. (About one in four parents indicated that mental/emotional health is a key component in a healthy lifestyle.)
Asked to verbally express what's important to them, tweens' top priorities were happiness, relationships with family, good grades, relationships with friends and overall physical health.
Parents' top priorities for their children were happiness, relationships with family, overall physical health, sufficient sleep and good grades.
About 80% of the kids said they view their lifestyles as healthy, and that they are physically fit. More than 80% of parents said they are satisfied with their children's eating habits (mostly because they control food choices), and similar numbers said they are satisfied with their kids' fitness levels, physical activity and exercise habits.
On the nutritional front, both parents and kids indicated conscious efforts to ensure that the kids have healthy diets. But not surprisingly, there are conflicts between thought and actions.
Nearly all (94%) the parents said they strive to include healthy foods in children's meals, and more than half say they've added more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to their children's diets in the past year. The top healthy foods they want kids to eat are fruit, vegetables/salad, water, juice and milk, and the top foods they try to avoid for kids are those with high sugar and fat, and soda.
Most kids claim they eat fruit and vegetables and limit junk foods, and report that their parents reinforce healthy eating (four out of 10 say their parents are "very strict" about healthy eating).
On the other hand, about half of parents report that their kids crave sweets and are picky eaters.
And when it comes to fast food, parents and tweens agree that kids should limit consumption, but it's unclear whether consumption patterns have actually changed.
Most tweens do say that they're eating less than in the past at fast-food restaurants, and more than half of parents say kids are eating less fast food compared to a year ago. But three-quarters of tweens say they "love" eating at fast-food restaurants, and 15% say they eat fast food "all the time."
And while it's not possible to say whether this percentage is down or up, 38% of parents named fast food as one of the foods/beverages most likely to be consumed at dinner. (Vegetables and soup/stew were named by 77% and 61%, respectively, and in another disconnect, non-diet soda came in fourth, named by 19%. Milk was fifth, at 16%.).
Further, 21% of parents named fast food as among the top lunch staples. The others were juice in a box (cited by 41%), chips (36%), plain bottled water (25%) and fruit (23%).
Interestingly, kids were far more likely than their parents to select an image of a McDonald's logo for their health collages, although their reasons for doing so were that they "love" the food and eating there, but at the same time know they should avoid fast food. Many kids also included an image of an ice cream sundae, and expressed the same love/avoid feelings toward ice cream.
Kids also included the Kellogg's logo in their collages much more frequently than adults--in this case, because they associated it with healthy foods. Tweens picked the Pop-Tarts logo far more frequently, as well--simply stating that they "love" this product.