British Journal of Nutrition

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Influences on the quality of young children's diets: the importance of maternal food choices

Catherine M. Fiska1 c1, Sarah R. Croziera1, Hazel M. Inskipa1, Keith M. Godfreya1a2, Cyrus Coopera1a2, Siân M. Robinsona1a2 and The Southampton Women's Survey Study Group

a1 MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK

a2 NIHR Nutrition Biomedical Research Unit, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK


It is recognised that eating habits established in early childhood may track into adult life. Developing effective interventions to promote healthier patterns of eating throughout the life course requires a greater understanding of the diets of young children and the factors that influence early dietary patterns. In a longitudinal UK cohort study, we assessed the diets of 1640 children at age 3 years using an interviewer-administered FFQ and examined the influence of maternal and family factors on the quality of the children's diets. To describe dietary quality, we used a principal components analysis-defined pattern of foods that is consistent with healthy eating recommendations. This was termed a ‘prudent’ diet pattern and was characterised by high intakes of fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread, but by low intakes of white bread, confectionery, chips and roast potatoes. The key influence on the quality of the children's diets was the quality of their mother's diets; alone it accounted for almost a third of the variance in child's dietary quality. Mothers who had better-quality diets, which complied with dietary recommendations, were more likely to have children with comparable diets. This relationship remained strong even after adjustment for all other factors considered, including maternal educational attainment, BMI and smoking, and the child's birth order and the time spent watching television. Our data provide strong evidence of shared family patterns of diet and suggest that interventions to improve the quality of young women's diets could be effective in improving the quality of their children's diets.

(Received January 26 2010)

(Revised July 23 2010)

(Accepted July 29 2010)

(Online publication September 01 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: C. M. Fisk, fax +44 2380 70 40 21, email


Abbreviations: PCA, principal components analysis; SWS, the Southampton Women's Survey; TV, television