Children fed balanced meals for three months were healthier years later

Children who were fed healthy family meals during a three-month trial remained healthier for years after, a study has found.

Low-income families in Edinburgh and Colchester were given simple recipe kits to cook five healthy meals a week, with scientists studying the impact on their children’s body mass index (BMI).

The BMI of children who had been cooked well-balanced meals during the scheme fell by between five and six percentages points.

Researchers also found that, in the three years after the study, children continued to eat healthily, although there was no evidence of a similar change in their parents.

Experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath collected information on 285 families’ dietary habits, weight and BMI, and found that prior to the programme all the adults and children involved were eating too much saturated fat and sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables.

Professor Michèle Belot, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Economics, led the study and said: “Our results suggest that dietary habits are more malleable early on in life than later.

“We found that children in both groups moved down in the distribution of body mass index.

“Interestingly, it appears possible to affect children’s habits even if those of their parents are unchanged.”

However, a similar initiative that encouraged families to eat meals at regular times of the day and cut out snacks for three months had a similar impact on children’s BMI during the first year, but the benefits faded over time.

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