OK. I'll eat more fruit. But vegies? Do I have to?

  • A Lower Hume primary school student enjoys barbequed vegetables
    A Lower Hume primary school student enjoys barbequed vegetables

Photo: Alexandra District Health

Chris Wasley, Alexandra District Health
Lee Coller, Lower Hume Primary Care Partnership
Kristen Glenister, University of Melbourne
Issue

Surveys over four years have found Victorian country kids are eating more fruit, but are still not loving their vegies.

Kids and parents from six rural primary schools to the north of Melbourne were asked about fruit and vegetable consumption in 2013 and again in 2017. 

It found half of all students reported eating fruit at school in 2013, increasing to 75 per cent in 2017.

In stark contrast vegetables were significantly less likely to be consumed.  Only 19 per cent of children said they ate vegetables at school in 2013.  That increased to 25 per cent four years later, but both scores are below the recommended intake levels.

The surveys were carried out by the Lower Hume Primary Care Partnership to evaluate nutrition efforts in the Local Government Areas of Mitchell and Murrindindi.

In both survey periods parents reported the same three top barriers to improving their kid's fruit and vegetable intake.   Fussy eaters, the cost of fresh food, and a lack of parental energy and/or time.

But the extent to which parents reported ‘caring’ about their child’s eating habits, or their own ‘nutritional knowledge’, did not influence their child’s fruit and vegetable consumption.

Results provide a strong case for focusing childhood health promotion on increasing vegetable consumption, as well as tackling barriers experienced by parents.

Lower Hume Primary Care Partnership (LH PCP) is a voluntary alliance of local health and human service providers working for better community health outcomes.

Victoria has 28 PCPs involving approximately 600 organisations, including hospitals, community health services, Primary Health Networks, local governments, mental health services, drug treatment services and disability services.

A primary purpose of the nutrition surveys was to evaluate the impact of a priority area of the LH PCP’s 2012-2017 Integrated Health Promotion Plan - healthy eating.

The Parent Nutrition Survey (PNS) asked parents about their children’s eating habits, including serves of fruit and vegetables consumed.  It also asked about  parental views and attitudes to their children’s eating. The Day in the Life Questionnaire (DILQ) was an existing, validated survey for children to report their dietary patterns over the 24 hour period prior to completing the survey.
 
A total of 257 DILQ surveys and 55 PNS surveys were completed in 2013.

In 2017 a further 284 DILQ and 94 PNS surveys were collected.

Response rates for the children’s surveys were much higher (87 per cent in 2013 and 91 per cent in 2017) compared to the parent surveys (28 per cent in 2013 and 19 per cent in 2017) as the DILQ was administered in classrooms  from Prep to Year 6.

Parent survey results concluded that 83.6 per cent of children met the recommended intake of fruit in 2017, which was similar to 2013 (80.9 per cent). However, a significantly lower percentage of children met the vegetable consumption guidelines across both time points (11.8 per cent in 2013 and 9.1 per cent in 2017).

The DILQ reinforced parental reports of children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Half of all students reported eating fruit at school in 2013, which increased to 75 per cent in 2017. In stark contrast vegetables were significantly less likely to be consumed at school, with 19 per cent of children reporting they ate vegetables at school in 2013 and 25 per cent in 2017.  

In addition, children were much more likely to report that they did not consume any vegetables during the sample day when compared to fruit. In 2013 over half (54 per cent) of children surveyed did not report eating vegetables, while only 34 per cent did not eat fruit. The 2017 survey had a similar pattern with 38 per cent and 17 per cent reporting they did not consume any vegetables or fruit respectively.

The discrepancies highlighted above are reflected in Victorian statistics (Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System, 2017) which found that in 2013, 73 per cent of children met the guidelines for recommended fruit intake while only 2.9 per cent met vegetable intake guidelines.  

The current study confirms that children are much less likely to eat vegetables while at school and highlights an opportunity to target school time vegetable consumption.

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