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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOPMENT AND PREVENTION OF CHILDHOOD OBESITY Title: Emotional climate, feeding behaviors, and feeding styles: An observational analysis of the dinner meal in Head Start families

Authors
item Hughes, Sheryl -
item Power, Thomas -
item Papaioannou, Maria -
item Cross, Matthew -
item Nicklas, Theresa -
item Hall, Sharon -
item Shewchuk, Richard -

Submitted to: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 10, 2011
Publication Date: June 10, 2011
Citation: Hughes, S.O., Power, T.G., Papaioannou, M.A., Cross, M.B., Nicklas, T.A., Hall, S.K., Shewchuk, R.M. 2011. Emotional climate, feeding behaviors, and feeding styles: An observational analysis of the dinner meal in Head Start families. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 8(60): 1-11.

Interpretive Summary: Many studies with ethnically diverse samples have found that parents with an indulgent feeding style (those who are responsive to their child’s emotional states but have problems setting appropriate boundaries with their child) had children with a higher weight status. The purpose of this study was to observe parents during mealtime to look at how they interact with their children (including emotions, tone of voice, and gestures). We also observed how they attempted to get their children to eat. We had 177 Head Start families from Houston, Texas (45% African-American; 55% Hispanic) in our sample. The relationship between the observed emotional climate of the meal, practices that parents use to get their children to eat, and self-reported parent feeding styles were examined. On average, children were 4 years of age and equally distributed across gender. Families were observed on 3 separate dinner occasions. Heights and weights were measured on the parents and children. Parents who self-reported indulgent feeding styles made fewer demands on their children to eat during dinner and showed lower levels of negative affect and intrusiveness. Surprisingly, these parents were also more detached with their children during dinner. Results suggest that the emotional climate created by indulgent parents during dinner and their lack of demands on their children to eat may play an important role in how young children become overweight.

Technical Abstract: A number of studies conducted with ethnically diverse, low-income samples have found that parents with indulgent feeding styles had children with a higher weight status. Indulgent parents are those who are responsive to their child's emotional states but have problems setting appropriate boundaries with their child. Because the processes through which styles impact child weight are poorly understood, the aim of this study was to observe differences in the emotional climate created by parents (including affect, tone of voice, and gestures) and behavioral feeding practices among those reporting different feeding styles on the Caregiver's Feeding Styles Questionnaire. A secondary aim was to examine differences on child weight status across the feeding styles. Participants were 177 Head Start families from Houston, Texas (45% African-American; 55% Hispanic). Using an observational approach, the relationship between the observed emotional climate of the meal, behavioral feeding practices, and self-reported parent feeding styles were examined. Mean age of the children was 4.4 years (SD = 0.7) equally distributed across gender. Families were observed on 3 separate dinner occasions. Heights and weight were measured on the parents and children. In result, parents with self-reported indulgent feeding styles made fewer demands on their children to eat during dinner and showed lower levels of negative affect and intrusiveness. Surprisingly, these parents also showed higher levels of emotional detachment with their children during dinner. Hispanic boys with indulgent parents had significantly higher BMI z scores compared to Hispanic boys in the other three feeding style groups. No other differences were found on child weight status. Results suggest that the emotional climate created by indulgent parents during dinner and their lack of demands on their children to eat may play an important role in how young children become overweight. Numerous observed emotional climate and behavioral differences were found between the other self-reported feeding styles as well. Results suggest that parents' self-reported feeding styles may be a proxy for the emotional climate of the dinner meal, which may in turn influence the child's eating behaviors and weight status.

Last Modified: 11/28/2014
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