Public health policies promote healthy nutrition but evaluations of children's adherence to dietary recommendations and studies of risk factors of poor nutrition are scarce, despite the importance of diet for the temporal increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity. Here we examine dietary intake and risk factors for poor diet quality among children in Nova Scotia to provide direction for health policies and prevention initiatives.
In 2003, we surveyed 5,200 grade five students from 282 public schools in Nova Scotia, as well as their parents. We assessed students' dietary intake (Harvard's Youth Adolescent Food Frequency Questionnaire) and compared this with Canadian food group and nutrient recommendations. We summarized diet quality using the Diet Quality Index International, and used multilevel regression methods to evaluate potential child, parental and school risk factors for poor diet quality.
In Nova Scotia, 42.3% of children did not meet recommendations for milk products nor did they meet recommendations for the food groups 'Vegetables and fruit' (49.9%), 'Grain products' (54.4%) and 'Meat and alternatives' (73.7%). Children adequately met nutrient requirements with the exception of calcium and fibre, of which intakes were low, and dietary fat and sodium, of which intakes were high. Skipping meals and purchasing meals at school or fast-food restaurants were statistically significant determinants of poor diet. Parents' assessment of their own eating habits was positively associated with the quality of their children's diets.
Dietary intake among children in Nova Scotia is relatively poor. Explicit public health policies and prevention initiatives targeting children, their parents and schools may improve diet quality and prevent obesity.