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Study shows breakfast nutrition drops for kids well before school

Brigid O’Connell and Alexandra Middleton, July 26, 2021 6:30PM News Corp Australia Network

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Finn, 4, and Olive, 23 months, enjoy a health breakfast. Toddlers who have a less healthy start to the day are more likely to be overweight by the time they start school, new research as revealed. Picture: Mark Stewart media_cameraFinn, 4, and Olive, 23 months, enjoy a health breakfast. Toddlers who have a less healthy start to the day are more likely to be overweight by the time they start school, new research as revealed. Picture: Mark Stewart

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What do you eat for breakfast? Because here is some food for thought: toddlers and preschoolers who have a less healthy start to the day are more likely to be overweight by the time they start school, new research has found.

And no matter how healthy the breakfasts that 18-month-olds are served, by the time they reach age five – school age – the nutritional quality has typically dropped by a lot.

The Deakin University research, presented this week at the Australian and New Zealand Obesity* Society’s scientific meeting, tracked the nutritional* quality of breakfast served at home to 320 Melbourne children at age 18 months, three and five years.

Dr Penny Love, principle supervisor of the study by PhD student Seon Park at Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, said the first 2000 days of a life – from conception* to age five – were critical for shaping lifelong health.

Man selecting his meal from a breakfast buffet media_cameraDietary foundations established in childhood help determine decisions adult eating habits. Picture: file.

“The foundations are really important for setting up how they’ll do as adults. Not just with nurturing*, biology* and genetics*, but also the lifestyle and role modelling* the child gets exposed* to in the home,” Dr Love said.

The three quarters of infants who were classed as having the healthiest breakfast choice on average still only met half the nine criteria for a nutritious meal.

By age five, breakfasts from these healthy eaters included just three of the nine important nutrient groups.

The one quarter of toddlers with a poorer quality breakfast at age 18 months had the quality drop further, to including just one nutritional item by school age. They were more likely to be overweight at age five.

“We want to unpack what’s going on in a family’s life from age 18-months to age 5 that’s disrupting* a provision* of a high quality diet,” Dr Love said.

“Are parents unaware, are they time poor, or is it more worrying, like access to or cost of healthier food?

“It’s not just body size, but conditions like heart disease, (which) you can’t see but might be manifesting* because of a poor diet.

“Parents should provide healthy eating behaviours and foods as early as they can. It’s all about the role modelling a parent does.”

Mum Emma Clarke said healthy breakfast foods like oats, fruit, yoghurt and toast were her “go to” for children Finnegan, 4, and Olive, 1.

“They’re hungry when they wake up, so I find it a good time to fill them up with good, nutritious food,” Ms Clarke said.

“It’s good for them to learn about balance from a young age.”

Full paper bag of different health food on rustic wooden background media_cameraThe Breakfast Quality Index, from a validated Spanish tool, assesses meal quality in relation to recommended Australian Dietary Guidelines. Picture: stock.

BREAKFAST QUALITY INDEX

Dr Love said the Breakfast Quality Index comes from a validated* Spanish tool which assesses meal quality in relation to recommended Dietary Guidelines.

The nine elements being assessed in the study are as follows:

  • Wholegrain cereal and grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Dairy products
  • Calcium
  • Presence of cereals, fruits and dairy in the same meal
  • The percentage energy contribution from foods providing simple sugars
  • The percentage energy contribution from foods providing polyunsaturated fats*
  • Ratio of mono-unsaturated* to saturated fats
  • Percentage of total energy contribution

GLOSSARY

  • obesity: state of being very overweight
  • nutritional: food necessary for health and growth
  • conception: the process that occurs that starts a pregnancy
  • nurturing: caring, protecting, encouraging the development of
  • biology: study of living things
  • genetics: science of heredity, study of genes
  • modelling: setting a good example of behaviour
  • exposed: experienced, witnessed, openly seen
  • disrupting: preventing, causing a disturbance or problem
  • provision: providing or supplying something
  • manifesting: developing, becoming clear
  • validated: officially accepted or approved
  • polyunsaturated fats: healthy fats that include fatty acids essential for brain function.
  • mono-unsaturated: another healthy type of fat

EXTRA READING

Grow your own fruit and vegies for good health

The search for Australia’s healthiest lunch box

Junk food tells lies to your brain

QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many Melbourne children were tracked in the study?
  2. At what ages were the children assessed?
  3. How many nutrients should there be in a healthy breakfast?
  4. Aside from obesity, what is another disease associated with poor diet?
  5. What does mum Emma Clarke feed her children for breakfast?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Healthy breakfast/unhealthy breakfast
Fold a sheet of paper in half and then open back out so that there is a crease down the centre. On one side write the heading “Healthy” and on the other side “Unhealthy”. Under each heading draw or cut and paste from catalogues/magazines, foods that you think fit into these categories.

When you are finished, compare and discuss your work with a classmate. Are there any foods that you disagree on? Talk about your own breakfast choices and whether there are improvements you could make for better health.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
Write a recipe (a procedural text) for making a healthy breakfast food.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Healthy Harry’s Breakfast
Create a jingle (catchy song) for a new ad introducing Healthy Harry, a toddler that always starts his day with a hearty, healthy breakfast.

The advertisement will be part of a campaign for new parents, to help educate them on what sort of foods and portion sizes they should be giving their toddlers.

Remember; jingles usually rhyme, are upbeat and have hidden information in the lyrics.

You want the ad to not only educate, but convince parents to make a change to children’s diets.

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