Country kids not eating enough vegetables – research

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Regional and remote kids face unique challenges when it comes to eating the recommended amount of vegetables, new research has found.

An Edith Cowan University-led study has found that children in regional and remote Western Australia need a major boost of vegetables in their diets.

The study, involving children aged 9-13 years and their caregivers from across the state, shows that only a paltry 13.4 per cent of kids get sufficient vegetables in their daily diets.

While many might point to picky eating and a lack of cooking skills, only 11.8 per cent of

caregivers indicated that their children didn’t like the taste of vegetables. A majority also reported knowing how to incorporate vegetables into meals.

Nutrition lecturer and lead author Dr Stephanie Godrich from the School of Medical and Health Sciences said other factors are clearly at play.

“Over half of the respondents indicated they would eat healthier food if their food outlets stocked healthier options,” Dr Godrich said.

“And one-third pointed to food quality as being ‘sub-optimal’.

“This includes vegetables not being fresh in their local shops or spoiling soon after getting home.”

Price was also an issue, with 79.1 per cent believing food was more expensive for them than in other communities.

Choice was a factor – people who agreed they had enough food outlets in their town were ten-times more likely to eat enough vegetables than those who felt strapped for options.

On the plus side, researchers found healthy eating messaging to have a positive effect on habits; caregivers’ ability to recall messages relating to vegetables was linked to adequate vegetable intake among their children.

Promotion and intervention

One recommendation included the implementation of a promotional campaign focusing on vegetable consumption. Future messaging might remind families they have options beyond the fresh produce section.

“Frozen and no added salt tinned offerings provide more opportunities for children to consume adequate quantities of vegetables, at a more affordable cost and with fewer quality issues than fresh vegetables” Dr Godrich says.

“These are convenient, and they are usually more readily available when their fresh counterparts are out of season.

“However, improvements to regional and remote food supply are crucial. Town planning that facilitates multiple options for families to purchase vegetables and greater support for regional-level food supply could be useful strategies.”

Intake of vegetables is particularly important for children, with the vitamins, minerals and fibre shown to help prevent future chronic diseases and moderate weight. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) stipulate that children 9-11 and girls 12-13 should have five serves of vegetables a day, with boys 12-13 needing five and a half serves.

This research was supported by a Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) research grant.