« Nutrition

The experiences of mothers and adolescents on how diet and nutrition affect their lives, and those of their children.  

If you’ve ever been a parent, or been responsible for feeding a child under three, you know that the volume of information available about nutritious food for children is both immense and confusing. It is difficult to overcome budget, time and logistical constraints to get healthy food on the table (or in a lunchbox) for your children, three times a day.  

Two recent reports, titled Feeding My Child: How Mothers Experience Nutrition Across the World and Food and Me: How Adolescents Experience Nutrition Across The World, conducted by a joint team of researchers from UNICEF and Western Sydney University, show just this.  

For too many families worldwide, including here in Australia, access to healthy and nutritious food remains a challenge. In their own words they told us their experiences.

Dini feeds her son Abdullah, 1, at their home in Central Java province, Indonesia. © UNICEF/UNI374572/Ijazah


Young children’s dietary intake is poor  


Most young children are not consuming a wide variety of healthy food. Only 16 per cent of children between six and two years consumed food from at least five food groups daily. In Australia, three out of five children consume animal protein daily.  

 

Financial constraints are a key obstacle   


Poverty significantly impacts a mother’s ability to feed her children, especially in lower income countries. Mothers living in rural communities were more concerned about financial constraints than those in cities, and often need to supplement the family income.  
 
“I want to eat healthy food but my husband
wants junk food so I cannot make both.
I have to choose junk food.
Download the Feeding My Child report
Young people’s dietary intake is poor, yet they understand that food and nutrition is essential for their growth and development. © UNICEF/UNI212434/Idreesy K


Adolescents’ dietary intake is poor 


In the previous 24 hours, most adolescents ate less than the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, and the protein they ate was mostly from animal food sources. In Australia, zero per cent of adolescents had consumed dairy in the same time period. 

Economic, geographical, and gender factor profoundly influences dietary choices. More than 70 per cent of Australian adolescents reported that lack of access to healthy foods is the biggest barrier to healthy eating daily. 


Family, social media and peers are the greatest influences on food choice  

Parents continue to play a role in food decisions for young people. Yet, in Australia only 50 per cent of adolescents ate one meal a day with their family, and young people identified that parents lack nutritional knowledge.  

Outside of the home, peers and social media continue to influence food and body perception. Australian girls talked about ‘tracking’ their eating habits to limit their daily calorie intake and they idealised ‘thinness’. Despite these challenges, adolescents identified that food and nutrition was essential to their growth and development. 

 

“[I eat well] to maintain a lot of energy;
to do activities like play football and
basketball and to maintain health.
Download the Food and Me report


Methodology  


This is the first ever qualitative, user-centred and comparative study of adolescent and maternal diet and nutrition at an international scale. This project was a joint effort between The Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University, UNICEF’s Nutrition Program and The State of the World’s Children team in the Office of Global Insight and Policy.

The Young and Resilient Research Centre from Western Sydney University conducted creative and participatory workshops with over 550 new mothers and 600 adolescents in 18 countries, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Serbia, Sudan, the USA and Zimbabwe. 

The resulting reports focus on two critical time points in children’s growth. Their first 1000 days of life, from conception until age two, as well as, adolescence, a period of rapid growth and development, when children not only gain independence but also bed down eating habits that will last a lifetime. They document how adolescents and mothers of young children think about food; when, what, how and with whom they eat.