The study assessed 3,526 elementary school students between the ages of eight and 10, taking into account their gender, home province, parents’ education level, who cooked for them most at home, whether they lived with their parents, and how often they stayed with their grandparents.
At the same time, their BMI was measured and they were tested on their knowledge about important staples, refined and unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits, and daily water consumption.
Their eating habits were also assessed, with details such as frequency of vegetable, fruit and fried food consumption; staple food, vegetable and meat portions for lunch and dinner; beverage choice, and milk and water consumption taken into account.
Although there were differences in family structures among the children, with some coming from two-generation households and others from three-generation households, the study found that these factors “did not lead to differences in nutrition knowledge, eating behaviours, or BMI”.
Instead, it was the parents’ educational level that influenced their eating habits and nutritional knowledge the most. Children whose parents were less educated had the least knowledge and unhealthiest eating habits, while children whose parents were highly educated had superior nutrition knowledge and the healthiest eating habits.
However, the difference in knowledge between children who had the most highly educated parents and those whose parents had a medium level of education was not significant.
The results suggested a “strong effect of parental education” on their children’s eating habits and nutritional knowledge, with children whose parents had had at least high school education — 10 to 12 years of education — benefiting the most.
The study said that “school-based nutrition education that includes multiple education inputs and environmental changes has a real potential to be an effective part of a national policy to reduce obesity”, citing a two-year elementary school-based obesity-reduction intervention that improved students’ knowledge and eating habits, and reduced BMI (mostly among boys).
The programme featured classes for parents on the importance of exercise and better food choices, as well as “school health promotion activities for teachers, administrators, building maintenance employees, and the installation of playground equipment”.
The study suggested that such programmes could be especially useful for schools in economically underdeveloped areas, where more schoolchildren’s parents had below 10 years of education.
It concluded that the “nutrition status of elementary school-aged children will benefit most by increasing the general level of education for those adults who are presently least educated”.
Source: BMC Public Health
“Effects of selected socio-demographic characteristics on nutrition knowledge and eating behavior of elementary students in two provinces in China”
Authors: Ling Qian, et al.