The Salt
1:47 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

Do Parents Really Know What Their Kids Are Eating?

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 2:09 pm

After school and evening are "crunch time" for most families. It's the time when crucial decisions get made that affect kids' fitness and weight. And that includes snacking.

To get an idea of what parents thought their kids were doing during this time, NPR conducted a poll with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Youth Radio's Chantell Williams talked about the findings with teens and their parents.

Deborah Richards from Oakland, Calif., thinks she has a handle on her son Donta's eating habits.

"He's fussy but he eats healthy," she says. "He eats healthier than me."

But Donta doesn't think so. "I know for a fact I don't," he says. "My breakfast, I can say on the daily, is a pack of Skittles. I make sure I get one every morning."

"Skittles?!" gasps Richards. "I try to teach him better!"

Richards isn't alone. According to the poll, 87 percent of parents report their children are eating healthfully. But do parents really know what their kids — especially older kids — are eating?

Not according to high school senior Felix Pieske, from Portland, Maine.

"Middle school might have been the last time that I really talked to my parents about like, 'Oh, what did you eat today?' " he says.

I still talk to my mom, Oya Autry. She thinks I have a good diet — lots of juices, water, fruits and salads, and not a lot of chips or fried foods.

And that sounds about right. Although, to be honest, I don't make it a point to keep track of what I eat.

However, some people, like my friend, 18-year-old Jorisha Mayo, know that they indulge, and do so starting right after school ends.

"I do occasionally eat unhealthy. I eat a lot of sugary foods and snacks," admits Mayo, from Concord, Calif. "I think I snack probably around the 3 to 4 [p.m.] zone. Then when it gets later, 11 or so, that's when I snack on my cookies and ice cream, and crackers or chips and stuff."

That's pretty normal. According to the poll, nearly half of children snacked on sweets, and a quarter ate chips the day before.

Lydia Tinajero, an expert on pediatric weight management at Oakland Children's Hospital, says some kids sneak their snacks.

"Some of the kids I work with that are overweight, they feel bad that they're eating things maybe they shouldn't," she says. "And so they sort of try and hide it, because at times they feel bad and they're a little embarrassed by it."

I don't intentionally hide food from my mom. But at the same time, I don't tell her every single thing I eat in a day, and she doesn't ask.

But for this assignment, I decided to keep a food diary, which I reviewed together with my mom.

I made some unhealthy choices during the week, including a bowl of crab fried rice and four Dorito chips for breakfast one day. But I also snacked on things like apples and granola bars.

Overall, my mom was pretty happy.

"Even those horrible snacks and weird breakfasts that I heard on the list, I think even those are still fairly healthy — four Doritos versus four bags of Doritos," she says.

However, I'm not convinced. I've always thought of myself as a healthy eater, but when I look at my food diary, I'm less sure.

Which got me wondering, where do we teenagers get our ideas about what healthy even means?

"That's a good question: What does healthy mean?" says Tinajero. "With pediatrics, healthy is about being balanced. I always tell kids ... are you putting the best thing into your body?"

Tinajero says that if you're in tune with your body — if you notice when you've had your fill of junk food for the week and decide to start eating better — then you're body will begin to tell you what it needs.

Which means my mom doesn't have to.

This story was produced by Youth Radio (with additional reporting from Blunt Radio).

The story is part of the series On the Run: How Families Struggle To Eat Well and Exercise. The series is based on a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. If you want to dive deeper, here's a summary of the poll findings, plus the topline data and charts.



Copyright 2013 Youth Radio. To see more, visit http://www.youthradio.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

This week we're exploring how kids eat and exercise after school and after dinnertime. These can be crunch times for many families when crucial decisions get made that affect kids fitness and weight. NPR asked parents about kids' eating habits in a poll conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

One question was about snacks. And the poll found that parents may not be as tuned in to their kid's eating habits as they think. Youth Radio's Chantell Williams talked this with some teens and their parents.

CHANTELL WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Deborah Richards, from Oakland, California, thinks she has a handle on her son Donta's eating habits.

DEBORAH RICHARDS: He's fussy but he eats healthy. He has influenced me on eating better.

WILLIAMS: Do you think he eats a lot of junk food?

RICHARDS: No, no, he eats more healthier than me.

WILLIAMS: Donta do you feel what your mom is saying is true?

DONTA RICHARDS: Not at all. I feel - well I know for a fact I don't. And my breakfast, I can say on the daily is a pack of Skittles. I make sure I get one every morning.

RICHARDS: Oh my God.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHARDS: I'm - Skittles? I try to teach him better.

WILLIAMS: Donta's mom is not alone. According to parents who answered our poll, 87 percent reported their children are eating healthy. But, especially with older kids, do parents really know? Not according to high school senior Felix Pieske, from Portland, Maine.

FELIX PIESKE: Middle school might have been the last time that I really like talked to my parents about, like, oh, what did you eat today? Other than that I just don't really talk to them about it at all, or talk to them at all.

OYA AUTRY: I still talk to my mom. Her name's Oya Autry and she thinks I have a good diet.

For the most part, lots of juices, and water, and fruits and salads and stuff. I don't think you eat a lot of chips, or fried foods.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, that sounds right. But to be honest, I don't make it a point to keep track of what I eat. So for this assignment, I decided to keep a food diary. I'll get to my results in a minute. But first, my friend Jorisha Mayo. She already knows she sometimes indulges, starting right after school.

JORISHA MAYO: I do occasionally eat unhealthy. I eat a lot of sugary foods and snacks.

WILLIAMS: Jorisha is 17 and lives in Concord, California. She loves to snack.

MAYO: I think I snack probably around the three-four zone. Then like when it gets kind of later like 11 or so, that's when I snack on cookies and ice cream, and crackers and chips and stuff.

WILLIAMS: That's pretty normal. According to the poll, nearly half of children snacked on sweets, and a quarter ate chips the day before. Dr. Lydia Tinajero at Oakland Children's Hospital says she is aware that some kids sneak their snacks.

DR. LYDIA TINAJERO: Some of the kids I work with that are overweight, they feel bad that they're eating things maybe they shouldn't. And so they sort of try and hide it because at times they feel bad and they're a little embarrassed by it.

WILLIAMS: I don't intentionally hide food from my mom. At the same time I don't tell her every single thing I eat in a day and she doesn't ask. But now that I've got my food diary, she's about to find out. We review it together.

For breakfast, last Wednesday I had a bowl of crab fried rice.

AUTRY: That's not that healthy.

WILLIAMS: And I also had four Doritos chips that morning.

AUTRY: Where was I? Where were you eating this stuff at?

WILLIAMS: At home, in my own kitchen, with food she bought.

OK, for a snack that day, I also had three cough drops. How do you feel about that?

AUTRY: Three cough drops, I don't know if that would be considered a snack that might be more preventing illness. So that might have been like a medical intervention that you applied.

WILLIAMS: I also had three apples and a granola bar for a snack. How do you feel about that?

AUTRY: Oh, that makes me feel great, to know that you're concerned about your health, and apples are an awesome source of fiber.

WILLIAMS: Even though I did make some unhealthy choices this week, overall my mom was pretty happy.

AUTRY: Even those horrible snacks and weird breakfasts that I heard on the list, I think even those are still fairly healthy - four Doritos versus four bags of Doritos.

WILLIAMS: I've always thought of myself as a healthy eater, but when I look at my food diary, I'm less sure. And I'm wondering where do we teenagers get our ideas about what healthy even means?

TINAJERO: I think that's a good question, what does healthy mean?

WILLIAMS: Again, here's Dr. Tinajero.

TINAJERO: With pediatrics, healthy is about being balanced. I was tell kids, daily, are you putting the best thing into your body? If you are in tune with your body, like you've noticed - like, OK, I've had my fill for the week.

(LAUGHTER)

TINAJERO: Let's put some good things in and then we'll see what next week brings. And if you sort of live like that, your body begins to tell you.

WILLIAMS: Which means my mom doesn't have to. For NPR News, I'm Chantell Williams.

CORNISH: That story was produced by Youth Radio. And we want to know what's on your plate tonight. You can send in a photo@NPR.org/Dinnertime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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