Repeated exposure to a variety of vegetables may be the best way to encourage vegetable eating amongst young children, suggests a study by a group of Australian researchers. The study, also finds that eating more vegetables while pregnant and breast feeding and offering vegetables first in complementary feeding may also be effective but that more evidence is needed. The authors call for incorporation of the most effective strategy into dietary guidelines for the public.
The Australian Health Survey shows that only 6% of children aged 2-17 years are eating the recommended amount of vegetables, strategies to improve that are badly needed.
The study by researchers at CSIRO and Flinders University is published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and it reviews existing studies on a variety of methods to increase vegetable intake in children. It compared 11 systematic reviews of children aged up to 5 years. One review was rated strong quality, 4 moderate quality and 6 low or critically low quality. In all, the reviews considered 85 studies that examined sensory or behavioural strategies on vegetable liking or intake in the under 5s. The researchers assessed the effectiveness of each strategy based on the strength of the evidence across all the reviews.
The findings suggest that the strategy of exposing children 10 or more times to a particular vegetable when the child is between the age of 6 months and five years was the best strategy to increase liking of vegetables. It was supported by a large and consistent body of evidence. A small to moderate body of evidence of mixed consistency and quality supported strategies that increase familiarity with vegetable flavours such as exposure through breast milk or in pregnancy or ‘vegetable first’ complementary feeding. A similar level and quality of evidence supported strategies to increase willingness to try new vegetables.
The authors conclude the level of evidence for repeated exposures supports including this strategy as advice in guidelines.
“There is an opportunity to improve children's vegetable intake by including practical advice - the 'how to' in our recommendations to parents and caregivers," says co-lead author of the paper Professor Rebecca Golley of Flinders university.
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Supporting strategies for enhancing vegetable liking in the early years of life: an umbrella review of systematic reviews. Lucinda K Bell, Claire Gardner, Esther J Tian, Maeva O Cochet-Broch, Astrid A M Poelman, David N Cox, Sophie Nicklaus, Karen Matvienko-Sikar, Lynne A Daniels, Saravana Kumar Rebecca K GolleyThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqaa384, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa384