Nationwide Survey on Family Eating Behaviors and Physical Activity Reveals Positive Changes and Opportunities

Nov 09, 2010, 11:00 ET from American Dietetic Association

CHICAGO, Nov. 9, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the midst of the childhood obesity epidemic and with a majority of American kids lacking the critical nutrients for healthy growth and development, the preliminary results of a new survey on family eating habits, attitudes and physical activity has been released—outlining positive changes as well as opportunities. The preliminary findings of the American Dietetic Association Foundation's 2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey were released Tuesday, November 9 at ADA's Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Boston.

Following up on a similar survey from 2003, the 2010 study surveyed 1,193 pairs of children (ages 8 to 17) and their parents*, revealing significant positive changes in eating patterns, meal and snack purchases and family patterns that are related to healthier weights in children.

Registered dietitian Dr. Katie Brown, national education director for the ADA Foundation, said: "Families are making progress towards improving the quality of their diets, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that children and families are getting the adequate amounts of the right foods and nutrients. For instance, children know what not to eat, but less than 25 percent of children and parents could name the foods they should eat the most.

"The good news is that parents are interested in meeting with a registered dietitian, who has the expertise essential to success and who can help them build upon what they already know about nutrition and apply it to their eating behaviors with skills and techniques from shopping and cooking to eating," Brown said. Below are some of the survey's key findings:

Family Influence

  • Children reported their mother as the person whom they admire or want to be most like (Caucasians: 18 percent; Hispanics: 23 percent; African-Americans: 30 percent), followed by fathers (Caucasians: 17 percent; Hispanics: 18 percent; African-Americans: 16 percent).
  • Since 2003, there has been a significant increase in daily family meals eaten at home, from 52 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2010. Additionally, 72.9 percent of children are eating at home on all five school nights, compared to 51.9 percent in 2003.
  • Top reasons parents are interested in meeting with registered dietitians focus on feeding their families—preparing healthy meals, what foods their children should be consuming more often, grocery shopping and reading food labels, and how food affects health. Children showed an interest in meeting with RDs as well, with 27 percent of Caucasian, 40 percent of African-American and 46 percent of Hispanic children interested in meeting with an RD to learn how to prepare a meal, and 27 percent of Caucasian children, 56 percent of Hispanic children and 47 percent of African-American children interested in meeting with an RD to discuss how food affects their health.

Nutrition Knowledge

  • Less than 25 percent of parents and their children correctly identified grains as the food group from which the most servings should be consumed daily. The most common answer was vegetables (47.4 percent of Caucasian parents, 45.0 percent of African-American and 31.1 percent of Hispanic parents; 25.0 percent of Caucasian and 25.4 percent of African-American children) except for Hispanic children who selected meats, fish, poultry and beans (22.8 percent).
  • When asked from which food group a person should eat the fewest servings daily, 78.4 percent of Caucasian, 66.2 percent of African-American and 70.5 percent of Hispanic parents and 74.2 percent of Caucasian, 63.2 percent of African-American and 66.4 percent of Hispanic children correctly identified the fats, oils and sweets group.
  • Parents ranked registered dietitians and doctors as very reliable sources for information about healthy eating and being physically active, more than other sources.

Eating Behaviors

  • A majority of families are not eating at fast food or sit-down restaurants often, with 51.4 percent of Caucasian, 56.5 percent of African-American and 63.8 percent of Hispanic kids reporting that their families eat there less than once a week or never. In comparison, children eating at fast food or sit-down restaurants three times a week or more include 9.3 percent of Caucasian children, 17.9 percent of African-American children and 13.2 percent of Hispanic children.
  • 58 percent of Caucasian children report eating breakfast daily; 41 percent of African-American and 58 percent of Hispanic children said they eat breakfast all of the time.
  • In terms of children skipping meals, 12 percent of Caucasian, 18 percent of African-American and 12 percent of Hispanic children report never or rarely having breakfast, and 3 percent of Caucasian, 5 percent of African-American and 5 percent of Hispanic children report never or rarely eating dinner.
  • The meal children are most likely to skip is breakfast. Thirty-seven percent of African-American children, 24 percent of Hispanic children and 22 percent of Caucasian children report eating breakfast only sometimes, once in a while or never.  
  • Children eat while doing other activities including homework, watching television, playing computer games and talking on the phone. About one-fourth of children eat while watching TV and a similar number said they eat after dinner all or most of the time.
  • The survey revealed that 56 percent of Caucasian, 75 percent of African-American and 65 percent of Hispanic children eat from the school lunch line. Children from low-income homes have the highest rate of consuming school lunch (82 to 89 percent).  

Physical Activity

  • The majority of kids report that they would be more physically active if fun activities were offered before school (59 to 79 percent), during class (80 to 89 percent) or after school (77 to 92 percent).  Further, kids said they would be more active if there were safe places to play in their neighborhood (66 to 86 percent) and if their peers wanted to do physical activity (87 to 89 percent).
  • The ADA Foundation's 2010 survey revealed a 93 percent increase since 2003 in the number of children being physically active with their parents three or more days a week. While a significant improvement, the rate of activity is still much lower than national recommendations of physical activity.
  • Similar to 2003, most family activities are sedentary—watching TV or movies or playing video games. Engaging in these activities three or more days weekly is 64.4 percent of families in 2010 and 57.2 percent of families in 2003.

*In 2010, a total of 1,193 parent and child pairs were surveyed within three population samples: 754 pairs of children and parents who are representative of the U.S. population, 209 African-American pairs and 230 Hispanic pairs. For race comparisons, a random sampling of 420 Caucasian child-parent pairs was taken from the general population sample.

The American Dietetic Association Foundation's Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey was fielded in February of 2010 by the independent custom survey research company Knowledge Networks. Survey results were released by the ADA Foundation in November of 2010, more information can be found at Outreach and promotion of the survey results is supported by an educational grant from the General Mills Foundation.

The American Dietetic Association Foundation is a 501(c)3 charity devoted exclusively to nutrition and dietetics. It funds scholarships and awards, public awareness and research projects and ADA strategic initiatives, and is the largest provider of scholarships and awards in the field of dietetics. The Foundation's mission is funding the future of the dietetics profession through research and education. Visit the ADA Foundation at

The American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at

SOURCE American Dietetic Association