Summary evidence statements on food and eating behaviours

These statements summarise the available evidence on the effect of selected eating behaviours on diet and body size.

The statements cover breastfeeding, parental feeding practices and parenting style, adult role modelling, responsive eating, mealtimes and food literacy.

For more information, see How We Eat – Reviews of the evidence on food and eating behaviours related to diet and body size.

For pregnant/breastfeeding mothers and partners

For partners

Family support for breastfeeding
Grade A

Be supportive about breastfeeding (with a positive attitude; remembering it is best for baby and your partner’s health). Your support makes it more likely that the mother of your child will intend to breastfeed, start breastfeeding and breastfeed for longer. Your support also helps her feel more confident about her ability to breastfeed.

For mothers

Family support for breastfeeding
Grade A

Involve your partner and/or your own mother in breastfeeding education and support (both before and after birth). Their support can help you to start breastfeeding and to breastfeed for longer.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade B

Eat a wide variety of foods and flavours (including bitter vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower) while you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. This makes it more likely that your child will accept vegetables in early childhood.

For parents and caregivers of children and young people

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade A

Be a nurturing and supportive parent. This helps your child to keep eating a healthy diet and to stay a healthy body size.

Responsive eating
Grade B

Watch out for signs that your baby or toddler is hungry or has eaten enough. With this awareness, you can help your child make small improvements in their diet, food preferences and eating behaviours. It may also protect them from gaining too much weight.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade B

Especially in the early years, keep offering children a wide range of foods, no matter what foods they say they prefer. Allow them to make their own choices from a wide variety of foods and encourage them to ‘take one bite’ of unfamiliar foods.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade B

When your child tries a new food, give them lots of encouragement. Do not use food as a reward (eg, ‘If you eat the vegetables you can have dessert’). Your praise and encouragement is more helpful and avoids your child thinking some foods are ‘special’ or ‘good’ and that others are ‘boring’ or ‘bad’. Focus instead on how useful different types of food are for their body, to give them energy and keep them healthy.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade A

Do not restrict how much your child eats (when they appear to eat too much) or pressure them to eat (when they appear to eat too little). Forcing a particular way of eating on a child can make them develop unhelpful ways of thinking about food, poor dietary habits and may make them put on too much weight.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade A

Avoid strict food rules, but at the same time do not give your child the complete freedom to choose any food.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade A

Set limits on the amount of takeaways, sweets and sugary drinks that your child (up to the age of 10 years) has as this helps protect them against a poor diet and putting on too much weight. The best approach is to set those limits without making your child aware of them – just quietly limit their access to, or restrict the portion size of, these foods and drinks.

Mealtimes
Grade B

Eat together as a family. This may help children and young people to eat a healthier diet and behave in ways that support good nutrition.

Responsive eating
Grade A

Avoid watching TV while eating – this applies to both you and your child. Children, young people and adults all tend to eat more while watching TV. The same effect may also happen with other screens (for example, computers, phones).

Adult role-modelling of healthy eating
Grade B

Limit the number of sugar-sweetened drinks you have. What you drink influences what your young child prefers to drink.

Mealtimes
Grade A

Give your child a healthy breakfast every day. This can help them achieve better results at school.

Adult role-modelling of healthy eating
Grade B

Eat breakfast yourself. Your role modelling encourages your young person to eat breakfast.

Mealtimes
Grade A

Give children and young people regular meals and snacks (three or more times a day). This may help to keep their weight down.

Adult role-modelling of healthy eating
Grade B

Eat fruit and vegetables yourself. Your role modelling encourages your child to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Parental feeding practices and parenting style
Grade A

Avoid strict food rules, but at the same time do not give your child the complete freedom to choose any food.

Food literacy
Grade C

Involve your child in preparing food and in cooking. This helps your child gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to make healthy food choices (food literacy). Cooking classes in schools and community kitchens may also help them to develop these skills and behaviours.

Food literacy
Grade C

Support gardening at school as part of the wider curriculum. This may increase children and young people’s access to vegetables and fruits, as well as encouraging them to eat and enjoy these foods.

For early childhood teachers

Adult role-modelling of healthy eating
Grade C

Be an enthusiastic, positive role model of healthy eating during mealtimes. Your good example may influence pre-schoolers’ eating behaviours.

For adults

Mealtimes
Grade B

Eat a healthy breakfast every day (at all ages). This appears to improve diet quality overall and may protect against weight gain, but is not linked with weight loss.

Mealtimes
Grade A

If you want to maintain or lose weight, focus on your energy intake over the whole day rather than on how often you eat. Body size does not appear to be linked to the number of times you eat a day. However, be aware eating more often does give you more opportunities to increase your energy (kilojoule or calorie) intake.

Responsive eating
Grade B

Be mindful and pay attention to food while you eat, and then stop eating when you feel full. This helps you to regulate your eating patterns and overcome unhealthy weight control behaviours. More research is needed about whether these techniques help to maintain or lose weight.

Food literacy
Grade C

Get involved in preparing food and in cooking. This helps you gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours you need to make healthy food choices (food literacy). Cooking classes in community kitchens may also help you to develop these skills and behaviours.

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