The surprising findings of a study that examined the dietary habits of children during quarantine

Throughout the year we have devoted many sections to nutritional coping alongside living in the shadow of the Corona virus, during and between closures. We learned about the challenges from questions and requests that arose in the field – from patients, readers, authors and family members who found it difficult to continue with the dietary routine as it was before the corona.

A study recently conducted in France and published in the scientific journal Apetite examined the year-round changes in children’s eating behaviors and allows for a scientific and supervised view of dietary changes. Although the study was not conducted on Israeli children, it seems that in the past year in particular, the similarities in the “corona routine” have outweighed the differences in our way of life in another era.

The first closure in France was imposed, similar to Israel, from March 17 to May 10, 2020. The guidelines were similar. Apart from essential professions, the work was conducted from home; There was no schooling; Leaving home was only for the purpose of stocking up on food and medicine or dealing with urgent family matters; Exercise was limited to one hour a day and a maximum distance of one kilometer.

The study involved parents of children aged 3-12 who completed an online survey. The age range was chosen in this way with the thought that at these ages the children are completely dependent on their parents in the preparation of the food. The study examined changes in children’s eating behaviors, parental motivation and eating habits during quarantine compared to the pre-quarantine period.

The manifestation of quarantine and its effect on diet were manifested on several levels. First, the parents’ stay at home with the children throughout the day and every day of the week makes the parents solely responsible for the meals for their children. What sometimes required new culinary abilities and a different organization at home. In addition, the manner of shopping, the frequency of shopping and also the economic uncertainty have changed the consumption habits of many families.

The study was not conducted in the country. We have a different culture, and our treatment of food and meals is different from that of the French in the reality that preceded Corona. However, from the exposure to dietary changes led by the Corona one can get the impression that the coping of parents in France is familiar to many of us here, in Israel.

Dr. Dorit Adler, president of the Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition and Chief Nutritionist at the National Food Security Council, presented data to the “Physicians for Nutrition” organization according to which in the first closure in Israel about 60% of children consumed more food and sweets and snacks.

Understanding that we have challenges similar to those of another population helps to accept and facilitate coping with the difficulty, and even to replace disappointment and frustration.
60% of parents in France reported at least one change in their children’s eating behaviors during quarantine compared to the pre-quarantine period.

Eating between meals: Parents reported an increase in the frequency of snack consumption between meals in 36% of children. A statistically significant increase in consumption was observed between meals of sweets, chocolate, fruit juices, carbonated beverages, chips, crackers, ice creams, pastries, cream dessert, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts and fresh and dried fruits.

“Boring to me”: An increase in the level of boredom of the children at home compared to the period before the closure was significantly associated with an increase in emotional overeating, a desire to eat and the frequency of snacking between meals. 53% of French parents reported an increase in the level of boredom of their children.

Changes in parental motivation to purchase food: 85% reported at least one change in motivation to buy and prepare certain foods for children during quarantine, compared to the period before. More fun and sustainable food and on the other hand less convenient food to prepare. This is probably due to the fact that there is more time to prepare food at home.

And what about the eating behavior of the parents themselves? The frequency of afternoon snack consumption has increased in some parents. When asked if the quarantine and accompanying emotions such as boredom, stress or anxiety affected the desire to eat, almost half of the parents answered in the affirmative. Only 14% reported feeling less needy compared to the past.

Of the parents who reported changes during quarantine compared to the pre-quarantine period, a significant increase in the use of food as a sedative or comforting factor was observed. Changes in meal times, composition and amounts of food were also observed. The study found that as the level of stress the parents were under increased, the choices related to children’s nutrition were less informed, such as giving children more autonomy in making food-related decisions. In addition, there was an adverse effect on the atmosphere during the meal.

A child eats fruit (Photo: ingimage / ASAP)

The relationship to socio-economic status and gender: Parental permissiveness among those with higher education was lower compared to parents with lower status. Higher education and good economic status are factors that predict a greater increase in motivation to purchase healthy foods and foods related to weight balance, cooking with children and consuming sustainable foods, compared to lower-educated parents.

In mothers, there was an increase in the autonomy of children in choosing when to eat, while in fathers no such change was reported.

The good news: When parents were asked about home cooking, 66% of parents reported cooking more than before. When asked about the time they spent preparing food with their children, 71% of parents indicated that they spent more time co-preparing.

The most significant message is the importance of education for proper parental nutrition. For those parents who had the knowledge, coping with the child’s diet even in times of crisis was better and possibly a return to routine. 


Source: Maariv.co.il – בריאות by www.maariv.co.il.

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