Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

Parents can inspire good health and behaviour change among children.

Teaching Your Kids Healthy Eating habits.
Figure 1: Teaching Your Kids Healthy Eating habits.

Get to the parents to avoid children eating disorders

The best method to influence your child’s eating habits is by your own healthy eating habits and behaviours. When your kids notice that you eat your fruits, vegetables, reduce your TV hours, and exercise, there are possibility that they follow your positive healthy habits. Such habits will help your children maintain healthy weight and enjoy life.

Limit time on TV and junk food.
Figure 2: Limit time on TV and junk food.
Healthy living is a family affair.
Figure 3: Healthy living is a family affair.

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Changing children’s eating habits starts by getting to the parent, at least according to conventional wisdom. This might be a sure way of fighting rising cases of child obesity in the UK. However, a recent study indicates that parents’ influences on children’s eating habits may be limited. Therefore, Change4Life campaigns should target other factors other than parents.

Despite rising cases of obesity in the UK and all over the world, some promotions by Change4Life deliberately avoided the use of the term ‘obesity’ (Piggin and Lee, 2011). This is likely because of the political undertone that obesity debate has taken within the public sphere. In fact, people do not want to use terms like ‘fat, obese, and overweight’ when referring to body weight as Piggin and Lee observe.

By using a social campaign that encourages parents to encourage healthy eating habits among their children, this campaign aims to fight and reduce child obesity in the UK.


Child obesity has become a serious health problem in developed nations. In the UK, obesity among children increased between 1995 and 2004 (fig. 4). However, there is a slow decline in the trend from 2004 to the present, especially among teenagers (Public Health England, 2013). Such a decline was only possible because of health campaigns that aimed at reducing child obesity in the UK. It also proves that parents and children have reacted positively to health campaigns that target obesity and encourage healthy living. Thus, such campaigns can influence public health policies because of their effectiveness (Piggin, 2012).

Trends in child (aged 2-15 years) obesity prevalence
Figure 4: Trends in child (aged 2-15 years) obesity prevalence (HSE, 2013).

Issues of overweight among children have both short-term and long-term repercussions. Obese can be difficult to control once established. Thus, early interventions are necessary for children. First, there are emotional and psychological consequences of being obese. Some of these sorts of discrimination include “discrimination, teasing, low self-esteem, depression, fatigue, and anxiety” (Public Health England, 2013). Second, overweight children are “likely to grow to overweight adults” (Public Health England, 2013).

This enhances risks of disability, morbidity, and mortality. There are other issues about high blood pressure, changes in cholesterol levels, and metabolic problems in obese teenagers. Finally, children can have some obesity-related challenges in childhood. For instance, some obese children have developed Type 2 diabetes (‘diabesity’). This was commonly a problem of adults, but is now rampant among overweight kids. Other common problems include eating disorder and respiratory challenges. This explains why an urgent call for action is mandatory by social campaigns that target parents, which can partially control children’s eating habits.

Recognise the problem

Many parents have not recognised obesity in their children. In fact, they deliberately avoided the term ‘obesity’ as Piggin and Lee showed. Such parents claimed that the term was “an insult and would not use it” (Piggin and Lee, 2011) while Change4Life considered obesity as a clinical problem. This was a serious ethical challenge to health campaigners who targeted obesity (Marketing Society Forum, 2010).

Obesity is not new. However, parents fail to recognise obesity or overweight among their children through some media campaigns (Hardy and Asscher, 2011). Hardy and Asscher noted that some studies had indicated that only 17 percent of the parents whose children had obesity recognise the problem. As a result, Change4Life noted that changing a marketing campaign to give obesity a new meaning would get parents’ attention to recognise obesity as a problem for both young and old generation.

A number of children grew into puberty at a normal weight. However, the challenge is that such children show early signs of being obese through eating disorders and living a sedentary lifestyle. These are behaviours, which can facilitate obesity among children and in adulthood. It would be difficult to attempt and change old behaviours, which people have ingrained throughout their lives. Therefore, parents must instil positive behaviours by insisting on healthy eating habits among their children. Effective campaign must target behaviour change in children through their parents and other members of the society, who may influence eating habits in children.

This campaign recognises the fact that obesity is a major health problem in children (HM Government, 2010). However, most parents in the UK have failed to acknowledge such problems within their homes. Under normal circumstances, parents underestimate the amount of food their children consume. Still, parents also do not recognise the danger in long hours of playing video games and watching television among their children. Parents focus on food and activities that provide immediate happiness to their children rather than long-term benefits. For instance, parents do not consider healthy living as a priority among children. Therefore, this campaign aims to show that healthy living starts from parents by shaping behaviours of their children.

Positive role models

Parents have the responsibility of encouraging positive role model behaviours among their children. According to Rachel Paul, “children learn to eat and develop lifelong, healthful eating habits by watching their parents as role models” (Paul, 2013). Therefore, it is necessary for parents to include various foods in their meals. Moreover, it is advisable for parents to discuss why healthy eating habits are necessary among children and adult too (fig. 1).

Parents should let their children to take part in decision-making about foods to eat. However, parents must demonstrate the importance of making food choices and planning health diets. Thus, children would understand components of foods in order to appreciate why people read labels at grocery stores.

Social campaigns

Previous campaigns by Change4Life had great impacts in the public domain because they avoided the use of the term ‘obesity’ due to negative perception of the term by parents. As a result, prevalence of obesity in the UK has declined, especially among children. This campaign aims to reinforce healthy eating by focusing on a balanced meal with fruits and vegetables. Past advertisements of Change4Life have focused on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables as a way of fighting obesity (Adams, et al., 2012). The campaign targeted retail stores in order to enhance accessibility to fruits and vegetables.

Social marketing (SM) has been an intervention method of creating awareness about obesity, nutrition, and exercise. SM is effective because they have wide reach among the target population (Charles, 2011). Croker and other researchers noted that SM was common, but it had not been evaluated to ascertain its effectiveness. Many studies have indicated that most target populations were aware of the campaigns. Specifically, Croker et al. (2012) cited low impacts on behaviours or attitudes among the target populations. However, the campaign has been effective because of the decline in obesity in the UK (Change4Life brought to you by PepsiCo and others, 2009).

Positive outcomes

Positive outcomes are evident both in the decline of prevalence of obesity, particularly among children and in the success of the campaign among parents (Hardy and Asscher, 2011; Public Health England, 2013; Croker et al., 2012). The campaign awareness reached 90 percent of the target populations. As a result, parents could relate behaviours that resulted in overweight and subsequent poor health outcomes.

However, the campaign reached many parents, Croker and colleagues noted that it did not have the desired change in attitudes or behaviour among parents and children. Moreover, “a low engagement with the intervention appeared as a key issue” (Croker et al., 2012). We can attribute this to several factors that may also influence healthy eating habits among children. For instance, peers, available food, television viewing tendencies, community, and school have significant impacts on eating habits of children. Moreover, teenagers also have interests in their self-image and self-esteem, which have key importance in their eating habits.

Such knowledge goes beyond the conventional wisdom of the role of the family in influencing eating habits of children. This is possible because teenagers’ eating habits are under pressure from several aspects, and the role of parents may only contribute to some extent. This suggests that Change4Life should also focus on other people and factors that influence eating habits among children. For instance, advertisements and campaigns should target schools, peers, food retailers, and the entire food production and distribution system. Advertisements should focus on the role of parents as good role models through education and empowerment with the necessary knowledge on healthy eating habits.

Macfarlane and Thomas noted that combining exercise and healthy eating habits had long-term benefits, which many people may not recognise during the initial stage of the practice (Macfarlane and Thomas, 2010). They observed that diet and exercise contributed to over 20 percent of weight reduction than a diet alone (fig. 1 & 3).


Given the past success of Change4Life social marketing campaigns against obesity, this campaign adopts a similar approach through focusing on the role of parents in promoting healthy eating habits among children. It also encourages the importance of physical activities among children. The campaign does not refer to the term ‘obesity’ in order to the grab attention of every parent. It aims to create a home environment in which healthy meals and exercise replace poor behaviours and habits that contribute to overweight. Evidences suggest that healthy living habits have positive impacts on overall health of people.

However, future campaigns should also focus on the role of other factors that have influences on eating habits of children because parents only play a partial role in shaping eating habits of children. In addition, future campaigns should focus on changing attitude or behaviours of parents and children towards healthy lifestyles.

Reference List

Adams J, Halligan J, Burges Watson D, Ryan V, Penn L, et al. 2012, ‘The Change4Life Convenience Store Programme to Increase Retail Access to Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: A Mixed Methods Process Evaluation’, PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 6, pp. 1-8.

‘Change4Life brought to you by PepsiCo and others’ 2009, The Lancet, vol. 373, pp. 1-2.

Charles, G 2011, ‘Change4Life wins consumers approval’, Marketing Magazine, p. 3.

Croker, H, Lucas, R and Wardle, J 2012, ‘Cluster-randomised trial to evaluate the ‘Change for Life’ mass media/social marketing campaign in the UK’, BMC Public Health, vol. 12, no. 404, pp. 1-15.

Hardy, A and Asscher, J 2011, ‘Recipe for success with Change4Life’, Market Leader Quarter, vol. 1, pp. 24-28.

HM Government 2010, Change4Life: One Year On, Crown, London.

Macfarlane, D and Thomas, G 2010, ‘Exercise and diet in weight management: updating what works’, Br J Sports Med, vol. 44, pp. 1197–1201.

Marketing Society Forum 2010, ‘Is it right to stop brands using Change4Life imagery on-pack? Marketing Magazine, p. 30.

Paul, R 2013, ‘The Role of Social Relationships in Shaping Child and Adolescent Eating Behaviors: Implications for Health Practitioners’, Food Insight, pp. 1-4.

Piggin, J 2012, ‘Turning health research into health promotion: A study of causality and ‘critical insights’ in a United Kingdom health campaign’, Health Policy, vol. 107, pp. 296– 303.

Piggin, J and Lee, J 2011, ‘Don’t mention obesity’: Contradictions and tensions in the UK Change4Life health promotion campaign’, Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 16, no. 8, pp. 1151–1164.

Public Health England 2013, Child Obesity: UK prevalence. Web.

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