Parenting Styles Effect Children’s Fast Food Habits

This study was conducted to assess the reasons and factors that affect the time spent by children and their parents in both fast-food and full-service restaurants. Both telephonic and face-to-face interviews revealed that the factors that influence time spent in such restaurants depend on the parents’ work routine, parental wishes to use restaurants and the child’s time spent in the family car or automobile. It was noted that more negligent parenting led to more eating out away from home in children.

Trends and national surveys have revealed that only 34 percent of the family food expenditure was spent on restaurant food in 1974. That same figure had risen to 48 percent in 2008. With the alarming rise of obesity and overweight individuals in society, it is imperative to look at the various trends and reasons for obtaining food prepared outside the home. It is a common fact that the foods in restaurants score high in fats and calories while being low in nutritional value. While some parents report that they need to resort to restaurant food due to hectic work schedules, some report other advantages of getting food from outside such as faster service, tastier alternatives and convenience. This study was planned to explore the various reasons that lead to an increasing amount of time spent in fast-food and full-service restaurants. The present study was informed by previously known theories of sociology and economics and aimed at finding out the reasons why children used and spent time in fast-food and full service restaurants.

For this study, a total of 312 families who had children aged between 9 and 11 years or 13 and 15 years were chosen. All parents of these families were interviewed over phone and their children were interviewed in their own homes. Time spent in fast-food and full-service restaurants for each family was assessed. Other questions like parents’ time schedule at work, style of parenting, and meal-related traditions and culture was also recorded for the analysis.

Data/Results/Key Findings
* Results showed that children whose fathers preferred to eat out tended to spend more time at restaurants. However, if the fathers felt that a family dinner was important, the children spent less time in fast-food restaurants.
* If both parents had standard work schedules, the children spent more time in full-service restaurants. If the child spent more time in the family car with their parents, the time spent eating out in both types of the restaurants increased.
* If the mothers put their career before their role as a parent, their children spent more time in the fast-food restaurants. If the mothers exercised a more authoritative type of parenting, the children spent less time in the fast-food restaurants.
* In situations were both parents neglected their child’s needs, the time spent by the child in the fast-food restaurants increased.
* Interestingly, when children felt they could eat whatever they wanted with their friends,  they reported less time eating in full-service restaurants.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The sample size of low income families and minority group families was smaller than what is officially recommended; hence the study does not reflect a representative picture. Authors also add that only the time spent in restaurants was taken into account. Home-delivery or take-out meals were not noted in the study. The authors suggest that large studies addressing all these shortcomings should be conducted in future.

This study showed that parenting type or style, parents’ work schedules and family meal perceptions affect the time that a child spends in fast-food and full-service restaurants. This is the first study that has explored these factors that affect children’s eating out habits. A novel finding of this study was that increased time spent travelling in the family car meant increased eating away from home in children. It is believed that when children are taken around on errands and meal times at home are neglected, it leads to increased eating out in restaurants. Authors conclude that “Dietary quality of children is influenced by the manner in which parents interact with their children (parenting style), time available for family meals, and the role restaurants play in their lives.”

For More Information:
Determinants of Children’s Use of and Time Spent in Fast-food and Full-service Restaurants
Publication Journal: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2011
By Alex McIntosh, PhD; Karen Kubena, PhD, RD; Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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