The thin line between encouraging kids to eat and obesity

Filed under: Just For Moms, Nutrition: Health, Development/Milestones: Babies

Poor kids! They are often chastised for not finishing their meals, yet research shows that more and more are becoming obese. What should we do? A study in the September issue of The Journal of Pediatrics evaluated the role of mothers prompting their child to eat, the child's compliance with those prompts, and the potential contribution of each to the risk of obesity. The researchers videotaped and evaluated the tasting of four different foods by 71 mother-child pairs. Two of the foods presented were familiar (a cream-filled sponge cake and potato chips) and two were unfamiliar (a sweet Chinese dessert cake and fried vegetable chips). The researchers recorded how many times the mother prompted her child to take a bite and whether the child obeyed these prompts. On average, children complied with their mother's prompts to take another bite approximately two-thirds of the time. Low maternal education, the presentation of unfamiliar foods, and younger age of the child were factors that predicted more prompting from the mother. On the other hand, the mother being obese, the offering of familiar foods, and older age of the child were factors that predicted the child's compliance with the prompts. In children of obese mothers, variables that predicted a higher body mass index in the child were low maternal education, more prompts by the mother to eat unfamiliar foods, and fewer prompts to eat and bites of the familiar foods. In contrast, in children of mothers who were not obese, none of these behaviors were related to the child's weight status.

Obese mothers did not prompt their child to eat more than non-obese mothers. However, children of obese mothers complied with their mother's prompts to eat the unfamiliar foods approximately 67% of the time, whereas children of non-obese mothers complied with 52% of the prompts. This could be due either to the children of obese mothers being more sensitive to environmental cues to eat or their mothers' greater awareness of their child's weight; therefore, obese mothers should make more careful efforts towards shaping the child's eating behavior.

This makes it sound like we should be prudent in prompting children to eat. Sometimes, particularly if they eat little, some prompting may be useful; the lesson here, I guess, is not to overdo it. On the other hand, prompting a child to eat just for the sake of finishing everything on a plate is not good advice. What do you think?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.