What is it about?

Children’s food preferences and eating behaviors have implications for their health and weight status, serving as risk or protective factors for obesity. Although parent and child factors influence children’s eating, few studies have examined parent and child temperament simultaneously in relation to child food preference and eating behaviors. In this article, we addressed this research gap. Participants were 115 ethnically diverse children between 4 and 6 years old and their parents. Measures included parental temperament traits, parental anxiety, child temperament traits, and child food preference and eating behaviors observed using a laboratory procedure. Results show that children preferred candies over grapes, and that aspects of both child and adult temperament were related to child eating behaviors. Child surgency was linked to eating more candies, while child effortful control was linked to eating more grapes. Parent effortful control was related to children’s preference toward grapes. No relations were found between child eating behaviors and child or parent negative affectivity and parental anxiety. Overall, findings suggest that highly impulsive and poorly self-regulated children may be at risk for obesogenic eating habits.

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Why is it important?

Childhood obesity is widely acknowledged as a global public health issue. In the present study, parent effortful control was negatively related to child preference for candies. Adults who have high self-control tend to have fewer unhealthy snacking habits and consume fewer unhealthy snacks (Adriaanse, Kroese, Gillebaart, & De Ridder, 2014). The combination of our findings on parent effortful control and child eating and those from prior studies on adult self-control and adult eating habits suggests that parents with higher effortful control may more readily inhibit impulse to purchase unhealthy foods or snacks and, in turn, model or feed their children more healthful food options. Thus, parental feeding could be an entry point for prevention and intervention to reduce childhood overweight or obesity. Overall, our results highlight child temperament of surgency as a relevant risk factor in children’s obesogenic eating behavior. Also, child and parent temperament of effortful control may serve as protective factors against children’s obesogenic eating behavior. However, results are based on cross-sectional data and longitudinal designs are needed to explore the direction of influences between study variables.

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This page is a summary of: Temperament as Risk and Protective Factors in Obesogenic Eating: Relations Among Parent Temperament, Child Temperament, and Child Food Preference and Eating, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, January 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/00221325.2019.1575180.
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