What is it about?

Pediatric obesity is a public health concern that poses serious threat and risk to children’s health, life satisfaction, and life expectancy. While prior research has documented bidirectional relations between parental controlling feeding practices and child appetitive traits, the processes or mechanisms by which child appetitive traits and/or controlling parental feeding practices transmit influence on child weight remain unclear, particularly amongst economically and ethnically diverse families. The present study addresses this research gap by testing controlling parental feeding practices (pressure to eat and restrictive feeding) as mediating mechanisms by which child appetitive traits (food approach and food avoidance) are linked to child weight in an economically and ethnically diverse sample of 4- to 6-year-old children. Results showed that restriction and pressure to eat mediated the relation between child food approach or food avoidance and child BMI. Mediation effects did not differ across poverty status or ethnic groups. Also, the type of controlling feeding that parents exert related to children’s weight status in diametrically different or opposite ways. Thus, food-related parenting appears to be a promising point of entry for childhood obesity prevention programs. Findings are consistent with a biopsychosocial model of the development of eating and weight in childhood which takes into account both parent and child behavior and characteristics and links child biology and behavior with psychosocial processes and environment.

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Why is it important?

Our results showed that controlling feeding practices are mediating mechanisms by which child appetitive traits of food approach or food avoidance are linked to child BMI. Of particular interest is that the two types of controlling feeding (i.e., restrictive feeding or pressure to eat) related to child BMI in opposite ways, highlighting that parents’ controlling feeding practices often have unintended or counterproductive influences on children’s weight status. The findings of mediation effects for controlling parental feeding practices are promising, because parents’ feeding behaviors are modifiable and could be targets of parent- or caregiver-focused interventions and education (Lindsay, Sussner, Kim, & Gortmaker, 2006; Steinsbekk, Belsky, & Wichstrøm, 2016). Further, our findings highlight that parents could be empowered as agents of change in their children’s lives through promoting children’s healthy eating habits and healthy weight.

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This page is a summary of: Appetitive Traits and Weight in Children: Evidence for Parents’ Controlling Feeding Practices as Mediating Mechanisms, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, November 2019, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/00221325.2019.1682506.
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