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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

2013 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:
Our research milestones for this year included examining ethnic differences in parent/child feeding interactions. Because ethnically diverse families are at a higher risk for obesity, our research goal was to examine differences in the dynamic process through which mothers' feeding may influence young children's eating behaviors and weight. To examine these differences, audio/videotapes on 80 low-income families (out of 138) were chosen so that they were equally distributed on gender (boy/girl), ethnicity (Latina/Black), and weight status (healthy/overweight). These families were audio/videotaped in their own homes during their usual dinner meal. We found that Latina mothers were more likely than Black mothers to encourage their children to eat, to tell their child to eat a different food, and to teach eating skills during the dinner meal. In contrast, we found that Black mothers were more likely to discourage eating by asking if the child was finished and to focus on table manners. These results suggest the Black and Hispanic families engage in different parent-child verbalizations during the dinner meal. These ethnic differences can provide useful information for researchers who are developing and implementing obesity prevention programs with ethnically diverse families. A poster was presented at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior 2012 conference on ethnic differences, and these results will be highlighted again this year in an oral presentation during the USDA/NIFA Highlights from the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program symposium at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior 2013. Our research milestones during this year also targeted the correspondence in mother-child eating behaviors (i.e., the similarity of food served and consumed by mothers and their children during the dinner meal). Digital photos of dinner meal plates were taken for 145 low-income parents and preschool children in their homes. Two trained registered dietitians visually estimated the amount of food placed on the parent and child dinner plates. The foods on the plates were weighed at the end of the meal in the kitchen and away from the families. The amount consumed by the parent and child was determined by subtracting the weighed portions from the estimated portions. Results showed that the amount served to children correlated with the amount parents served themselves. In addition, we examined the variability in the amounts served to the child by the parent. The variability in what the parent served themselves and how much they served their child was significantly correlated. Furthermore, the variability in how much a child was served was associated with what they consumed. These results demonstrate that a major driver in how much children consume is how much they are served. However, how a mother decides how much a child should be served is yet to be determined. Does the mother go by what she likes/wants and does this determine how much her child consumes? In our study, very large amounts were served to children and quite a lot was consumed by many children. Although a plethora of experimental work has been conducted on portion sizes with children, very little work has put this concept in context by examining this dynamic in a home eating environment. A manuscript detailing this study is currently under review. Unfortunately, our analyses examining the psychosocial precursors to maternal feeding showed no significance. All of the data in these analyses were based on parent-report of their own behaviors, introducing bias into the results. We plan to further examine these psychosocial precursors to maternal feeding using our observed data on mother-child feeding interactions.

4. Accomplishments
1. How do feeding practices of low-income mothers compare to current recommendations? Little is known about whether mothers follow current pediatric recommendations for feeding of young children, especially among low-income families who are at a higher risk for obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics in the Pediatric Nutrition Handbook (5th edition) states that "Adults should decide when food is offered or available and the child should be left to decide how much and whether to eat at a given eating occasion." Researchers at the Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston, Texas, used direct observation of dinner meal interactions in low-income Latina and Black families to gather descriptive data on feeding practices. Results showed that maternal feeding practices were not consistent with current recommendations in that 1) many mothers spent considerable time encouraging eating—often in spite of the child's insistence that he or she was finished, 2) mothers talked little about food characteristics, 3) they rarely referred to children's feelings of hunger and fullness, and 4) they spent more time focusing on table manners rather than teaching eating skills. Most of the mothers in this study did not engage in feeding practices that are consistent with current pediatric feeding recommendations. These results are important because they can be used to inform the development of feeding interventions in low-income families that are at the greatest risk for developing childhood obesity.

Last Modified: 05/23/2017
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