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Less fruit for toddlers when Mum smokes

Press release issued: 2 July 2003

What a child eats is highly influenced by whether the mother smokes - according to research published by Bristol's Children of the 90s study.

What a child eats is highly influenced by whether the mother smokes - according to research published by Bristol's Children of the 90s study. study.

Children of smokers ate less fruit and fibre - but more crisps, chips and sweetened drinks than children of non-smokers. The level of the mother's education is another major factor affecting diet, and to a lesser extent the mother's age.

As part of the study, researchers at the University of Bristol collected information on the diet of over 1000 children at 18 months of age. The results showed

  • The children of smokers had significantly higher intakes of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and starch, and lower intakes of fibre (or non-starch polysaccharides)
  • They were also less likely to have eaten poultry, buns, cakes and puddings, wholemeal bread and fruit
  • They were more likely to have drunk sugar-sweetened soft drinks
  • .

However, the factor with the most influence on a child's diet was maternal education. When the researchers divided the mothers into those with CSE or below (low), those with O-Levels (Medium) and A-Levels or above (High) they found:

  • Intakes of fibre and most vitamins and minerals increased significantly with increasing maternal education
  • Children of more highly educated mothers ate chocolate, crisps and white bread less often
  • They consumed wholemeal bread, fruit and fruit juice more often the higher the mothers education

The report says: "Consumption of most of the food groups investigated was associated with maternal educational level. Mean intakes of fish, cheese, yoghurt/fromage frais, wholemeal bread, breakfast cereal, fruit and fruit juice rose with increasing educational level, while intakes of meat products, sugar confectionery, chocolate, crisps/snacks, white bread, chips/ fried potatoes, tea and diet soft drinks fell."

Maternal age also affected diet. Compared to children of mothers aged 30+ at delivery, children of mothers aged 25-29 years were less likely to have consumed buns/cakes/puddings, wholemeal bread and fruit juice and more likely to have eaten crisps/snacks.

The report comments: "We have found that even in the preschool years, the children of smokers consume a diet that is different from the children of nonsmokers, and is further away from current recommendations on healthy eating. It is possible that these dietary differences may explain some of the adverse health consequences associated with passive smoking by children."

Children of the 90s nutritionist Imogen Rogers said: "Several studies have shown that adult smokers eat differently from non-smokers, even when factors such as educational level are taken into account. This is one of the first studies to show that the children of smokers are also fed differently, even at this very young age.

"These results also show that the children of less educated mothers are less likely to eat diets that follow the healthy eating guidelines. Particular efforts should be made to provide information on healthy eating to this group."

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