Researchers found eating the same food had a greater impact on a young child’s health than any other factor – including social background and snacking between meals.
The study, which looked 2,000 five-year-old, also revealed that first-born children tended to follow healthier diets than second- or third-born.
Dr Valeria Skafida, of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Population Health Sciences at Edinburgh University, said Britain was almost alone in Europe in “dumbing down”, with children’s meals in restaurants and at home, rather than encouraging them to eat what the adults were eating.
“I don’t want to stigmatise parents. Children the world over are picky and difficult at certain ages with food, and it becomes a ‘Catch-22’ that you feed children what they will eat.
“Unfortunately, the most palatable foods are usually not too high in the lists of food that are the most nutritious.”
Doctor Colin Michie, chair of the Royal College of Paediatrics, said: “If children were eating what their parents eat, then we wouldn’t have the iron deficiency problem we have.”