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Blame family environment if children consume high sugar foods finds study

Posted:  Monday, August 31, 2015

A new study has provided an interesting perspective on why some children report high consumption of foods laden with sugar. The answer may lie in the family environment and functioning. The study reported that children from more functional families were 67% less likely to consume more than 4 intakes of sugary foods and drinks per day as compared to those from less functional families.

Surprisingly, effective family environment led to a healthier diet in children trumping other reasons such as lower education, living in a deprived area and experiencing financial challenges. These findings were reported in the journal Caries Research. Titled the East London Family (ELF), the study is a major two generation family study involving more than 50 researchers.

The study evaluated 1,174 children aged three and four years and their parents. The researchers looked at families with single parents, those who were divorced, co-habiting, and even same sex families. The researchers defined 'effective family functioning' as a family which successfully manages daily life and resolves problems by way of warm and affective family interactions, clear communication, well-defined roles and flexible behaviour control.

Explaining the possible reasons for the findings, the lead researcher said, “We live in a very materialistic world but material resources alone cannot fulfil us. We also need to meet our psychological needs. A functional family is a major source of pleasure in life, providing comfort and reward. In contrast, dysfunctional families are a major source of frustration and stress -- and this can lead to high sugar consumption in the search for the 'feel-good' effect."

The study results have wide implications for public health. The researchers feel that traditional approaches to dietary changes such as health education through risk awareness programmes may not always be successful. Instead, interventions that are tailored to identify, encourage and develop the family's own positive resources to improve the health of its members could be a cheaper and more effective alternative.

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