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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics


Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

2011 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416)
Objective 1: Develop and evaluate a model of childhood obesogenic environments based on parent-child dynamics affecting child eating behaviors and body weight status. Sub-objective 1.A. Examine a set of functional relationships involving food parenting practices (i.e., strategies parents use and problems they encounter with getting children to eat healthy), child eating behaviors, and weight status. Sub-objective 1.B. Examine the nature of the perceived effectiveness of food parenting practices (theoretically associated with feeding styles) by examining some psychosocial precursors of food parenting practices such as child temperament, and parent affect. Sub-objective 1.C. Examine the nature of parent/child dyads involving eating behaviors and weight status and how these are influenced by feeding styles, child temperament, and parent affect. Sub-objective 1.D. Identify specific family characteristics (i.e., emotional climate at family meals) that influence child eating behaviors and body weight status.

1b. Approach (from AD-416)
Data analyses will first be completed on multiple aspects of an existing data set of parent-report data and height and weight data (independently gathered by research staff members on parents and children) at Head Start centers across two states. This data set includes information on African-American, Hispanic, and White low-income families. Secondly, data is currently being gathered on African-American and Hispanic low-income Head Start families in Houston, TX, and will be analyzed to gain additional information on the aspects of the family environment that impacts and influences children's eating behaviors and weight status. Ultimately, a model of parent-child dynamics will be developed (through these series of analyses) that can best explain the impact of the low-income environment on the weight status of preschool children (which includes the eating environment).

3. Progress Report
The milestones for the first two years of this research project included manuscript submission regarding strategies and problems that parents use and encounter in getting children to eat healthy. A manuscript was submitted to complete this milestone and is currently under review. A manuscript has been submitted that addresses the identification of specific family characteristics (emotional climate at family meals) that influence child eating behaviors and body weight status. The manuscript titled "Emotional climate, feeding behaviors, and feeding styles: An observational analysis of the dinner meal in Head Start families" was published this spring in The International Journal for Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity. We presented a paper at the Academy of Health's Annual Research Meeting (ARM) in Seattle, Washington (June 12-14, 2011). The presentation was titled "The influence of emotional climate within a home on children's body mass index (BMI)." As a part of an observational study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) aimed at understanding self-regulation of dietary intake in Head Start children, two laboratory rooms at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) have been updated specifically with a focus on high-resolution recording to be used in the observations of Head Start families. The two independent procedure rooms were designed so that two families can be run through the study protocol at the same time but in separate rooms without interference from one another. Each room has its own control and recording suite located in an adjacent room between the two laboratory rooms. Each laboratory room features child-oriented rugs and toys, developmentally appropriate tables and chairs, and sound dampening equipment. The updated recording system includes new cameras, microphones, monitors, recording devices, and computer terminals. Specifically, each room is equipped with 2 remote-controlled high definition IP surveillance cameras and 2 microphones. Food for this study is prepared in the metabolic kitchen located adjacent to the two laboratory rooms at the CNRC. The kitchen buys and prepares all the food for this study. In collaboration with the CNRC metabolic kitchen, we have designed appropriate meals to be served in the study eating tasks. Protocols have been developed and are currently being piloted for feasibility with the main longitudinal study beginning at the end of this fiscal year. The ADODR monitors project activities by visits, review of purchases of equipment, review of ARS-funded foreign travel, and review of ARS funds provided through the SCA.

4. Accomplishments
1. Interactions during dinner impact child eating behaviors and weight status. Parent-child interactions during the dinner meal have not been comprehensively studied, but some studies with low-income families have found that parents with an indulgent feeding style (parents that are responsive to their child's emotional needs but have difficulties setting appropriate boundaries) had children with a higher weight status. Children's Nutrition Research Center researchers in Houston, TX, conducted a study to observe differences in the emotional climate created by parents (including affect, tone of voice, and gestures) and behavioral feeding practices among low-income parents reporting different feeding styles (authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and uninvolved). We showed 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 the socialization of young children's eating behaviors and their risk for being overweight. These findings may help to establish recommendations for parenting behavior at the dinner table that could prevent childhood obesity.

2. Parent's emotions, responsiveness, responsibility, and distress influence children's weight status. Little is known about how parents feel about feeding their children, how responsive they are to their children during feeding, and how responsible they feel for what their child eats. Researchers at the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, TX, sought to identify groups of parents based on a number of emotional climate and feeding variables and link these behaviors to children's weight status. Using a sample of Head Start families in the Houston area, we found that the emotional climate in these families was related to the weight status of their children. Parents who reported more positive emotions (in general and around meals) and were responsive to their children's needs were less likely to report difficulties with their child and distress in their parent-child relationship; the children of these parents were less likely to be overweight or obese. Health practitioners who promote healthy eating behaviors in children should consider not only the nutritious quality of the food consumed, but also the quality of parent-child interactions during feeding to potentially prevent overweight status in children.

Last Modified: 07/25/2017
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