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Nutrition advice targeted at kids can help parents improve their own dietary choices.

July 26, 2017

Parents who manage their children's diets, restricting their saturated fat intake and focusing on foods rich in healthful, unsaturated, eat better than parents who don't monitor what their children eat, a new study published last week shows. While that may not sound like much of a surprise, consider this: not only do those parents eat better foods, but they benefit from those smart, healthy choices too. Here's how.

The study, dubbed the Special Turku Coronary Risk Factor Intervention Project, was conducted in two parts over the course of 20 years. More than 1,100 infants and their parents from Finland were chosen between 1989 and 1992 to participate. Split into two groups, half of the children and parents received nutritional counseling focused on getting the children to eat fewer saturated fats and more unsaturated fats, while the other half were left to their own devices and were given no nutritional advice.

The first part of the study found that children who'd received dietary counseling—which was conducted at least once a year for about 12 years—had decreased their saturated fat intake and improved their cardiovascular health. So in the second part of the study, the researchers looked at the parents of those children. They'd also sat through dietary counseling—but the advice was focused on getting their kids to eat better foods. Did the parents also take the advice and find a way to make it work?

In studying the parents' food journals, which they were required to keep over the course of the 20-year-long study, the researchers found the parents were also eating better, and their health was improved because of their positive choices. According to the study, those parents consumed significantly more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and significantly less saturated fat compared to parents who had not counseled their kids to do the same. Those mothers also decreased their serum totals and LDL concentrations—but not in a statistically significant way.

"The child-oriented dietary intervention contributed advantageously to the parental diet in the long-term and tended to reflect lipid concentrations," Johanna Jaakkola, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku and lead researcher, said. That's because, she explained, "presumably, all family members eat the same foods and thus child-oriented dietary counseling also affects parents' diets."