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Feeding methods lead to spike in eating disorders among children

Update: May, 01/2013 - 08:30

by Thu Hang

Illustrative image.— Photo

HCM CITY— A first-time mother of a two-year-old girl is desperate: no matter what she does, her child refuses to eat or eats very little. She distracts her with games, takes her outdoors around other people and says encouraging words. But nothing works.

"I used toys, videos, television and even my iPad as distractions in order to slip some food into her mouth," said Nguyen Thi Bich Ha, an accountant from HCM City. "I'm exhausted and I'm concerned about my daughter's physical development,"

Her daughter, who weighs only nine kilos, is usually fed by her grandmother as her parents do not return home from work until 6pm. She uses a traditional method by putting her down on a flat surface and giving her soft food.

Tran Ngoc Bich, who has a daytime job, relies on her mother as well to feed her child.

And she experiences the same problems as Ha. Mealtimes often end in disagreements between the parents and the child, with the husband chasing the son around the house with a spoon of food.

Because of low food intake, her son has gained weight slowly, and is now underweight.

According to a survey conducted in March by the Viet Nam Nutrition Association (Vinutas), feeding habits are a major problem leading to picky eating behaviours in children.

Sixty-five per cent of 3,000 parents surveyed said they allowed toys at the table, TV viewing during mealtimes, and feeding before the family meal.

Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the HCM City's Nutrition Center, said eating distorders, along with malnutrition, obesity and nutritional deficiencies, were the four common nutrition issues in Viet Nam.

A survey conducted recently by the Nutrition Center showed that half of children aged between 19 months and two years have an eating disorder.

Eating disorders were also prevalent among younger children, including 46 per cent of children 15-18 months old; 35 per cent of children 12-14 months old; and 29 per cent of children 6-11 months old.

Many parents pressure the children to eat, which can result in disinterest in food, Diep said.

Overfeeding can also lead to digestive troubles in children as well as poor absorption of nutrients, she said.

Feeding habits are a major problem leading to picky eating behaviours in children.—Illustrative image/Photo Van Vi

Dr. Tu Ngu, Vinutas' general secretary, told Viet Nam News that many parents used toys and television to distract children and put food in their mouth.

"This is a serious mistake because the child will eventually want to have different toys," he said. "Also, mealtimes should not be longer than 30 minutes to ensure that food is still warm and delicious."

Speaking at a workshop co-organised by Vinutas and Abbott Nutrition last Saturday (April 20) in HCM City, Dr Irene Chatoor advised parents not to force-feed their children.

Chatoor, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC, said this would generate conflict and interfere with the child's ability to recognise feelings of hunger and fullness.

To help children learn to eat according to feelings of hunger and satiety, parents should set up a schedule that include three meals and an afternoon snack, with meals and snack times three to four hours apart.

Regular mealtimes are critical to allow them to experience hunger and to learn to eat in response to their hunger cues.

She also said that children should eat with parents and siblings.

"I have learned that family dinners become more relaxed and enjoyable for the entire family once their children eat better," Chatoor said. "Learning to eat should be a pleasant experience." —VNS

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