Maternal feeding practices are linked to childhood obesity

February 22, 2002

Currently, an estimated 25% of American children are obese, and the prevention of childhood obesity has become a vital public health priority because obese children are much more likely to become obese adults. Although factors such as the sex, ethnicity or socioeconomic status of the child have been thought to affect a child's weight, a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that a mother's child-feeding practices outweigh all other influences on her child's total fat mass.

Spruijt-Metz et al. evaluated 74 white and 46 African American boys and girls averaging 11 years old by obtaining height and weight measurements and determining their total fat mass using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Each mother participated in a brief, in-person interview asking about her child-feeding attitudes and her perceptions of her child's overweight. Control variables that could influence the children's weight--such as socioeconomic status, energy intake, and body composition--were also ascertained. A mother's degree of concern for whether her child is or will become overweight was correlated with a higher fat mass in the child. Conversely, pressure to eat--as when a mother encourages her child to "eat everything on your plate"--was correlated with a lower fat mass in the child. Overall, maternal feeding practices more strongly predicted a child's adiposity than the child's energy and fat intake. The effect of a child's sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status on weight was insignificant in comparison to that of maternal feeding practices. The authors conclude that highly controlling feeding strategies may interfere with children's ability to self-regulate their food intake. Because a mother's child-feeding practices are the most important variable in determining whether a child will become overweight, future childhood obesity preventative efforts should focus on the feeding behaviors of the parents.

Spruijt-Metz, Donna et al. Relation between mothers' child-feeding practices and children's adiposity. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:581-6.
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