To examine food and beverage choices of preschool-aged children.
Semistructured observational study. While pretending to be adults during a role-play scenario, children selected food and beverage items from a miniature grocery store stocked with 73 different products, of which 47 foods and beverages were examined in this analysis. Parents self-reported how frequently they purchased specific grocery items.
A behavioral laboratory.
One hundred twenty children, aged 2 to 6 years, and 1 parent for each child.
Main Outcome Measure
Children's total purchases were classified according to the number of healthier and less healthy products they selected as least healthy, somewhat healthy, and most healthy choices. The same categories were used to classify parents' self-reported purchases.
Most of the children (70.8%) purchased foods that were categorized as least healthy choices. Only 13 children (10.8%) had shopping baskets consisting of the healthiest choices. On average, children in the group with the least healthy choices purchased the same number of healthier and less healthy products, whereas children in the group with most healthy choices purchased 5 healthier products for each less healthy product selected. The healthfulness of children's total purchases were significantly (P = .02) predicted by their parents' purchasing categorization.
When presented with a wide array of food products, young children chose combinations of healthier and less healthy foods and beverages. The data suggest that children begin to assimilate and mimic their parents' food choices at a very young age, even before they are able to fully appreciate the implications of these choices.