Primary school children who do not like eating fruits and vegetables are 13 times more likely to develop constipation than children who do, the results of a new study indicate.
Researchers studied the diet and toilet habits of 383 children aged between eight and 10 in Hong Kong.
According to the team, a number of studies have suggested that functional constipation - which is due to dietary habits, environmental habits and psychosocial factors rather than a particular health problem - is getting worse among school-age children.
"It is estimated that functional constipation accounts for 95% of cases of constipation affecting children once they pass infancy. The condition has serious consequences, as it can cause a wide range of distressing emotional and physical problems such as stress, soiling, problems at school, damaged self-confidence and reduced social interaction," explained one of the lead researchers, Dr Moon Fai Chan of the National University of Singapore.
The study found that 7% of the children who took part suffered from functional constipation and there were clear dietary differences between the children who did and did not have problems.
Those who did not like fruit or vegetables were 13 times more likely to suffer from functional constipation than children who did. Furthermore, those who only drank 200-400ml of fluid a day were eight times more likely to experience problems than children who drank 600-800ml, and 14 times more likely than children who drank a litre or more per day.
The study also found that girls were more likely to have functional constipation than boys (8.2% versus 6.6%) and nine-year-olds were more likely to report problems (13.3%) than eight-year-olds (10%) and ten-year-olds (5.2%).
The researchers made a number of suggestions to help tackle the problem, including:
-Parents need to be educated about functional constipation so that they can spot problems in their children and make sure that their diet provides sufficient fluid, vegetables and fruit.
- School tuck-shops/canteens should stock high-fibre snacks such as popcorn, fresh food and dried fruit, instead of crisps and sweets.
-Children should be encouraged to drink plain water during lessons and drinking fountains should be installed.
"We hope that this study will help to raise awareness of functional constipation, which can cause children real physical and emotional distress and seriously affect their quality of life," Dr Chan said.
Details of these findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.