Submitted to: Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/11/2007
Publication Date: 4/25/2007
Citation: Savage, J.S., Fisher, J.O., Birch, L.L. 2007. Parental influence on eating behavior: Conception to adolescence. Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics. 35(1):22-34. Interpretive Summary: For infants and young children, environmental influences on eating and health are filtered through the local ecology of the family eating environment. That is because caregivers decide which foods become available and accessible to children, they provide an example of eating which children learn to emulate, and caregivers make decisions about what, how much, how often, and with whom children eat. Food scarcity and malnutrition have historically represented a major threat to child health, providing powerful impetus for feeding strategies that encourage eating. Historical and cultural vestiges of that threat persist in child feeding, despite the widespread availability of inexpensive, energy-dense foods that characterizes the current dietary environment. The ability to view child feeding practices in the economic and cultural contexts in which they occur is critical to the success of efforts to explain and prevent overweight among children.
Technical Abstract: The first years of life mark a time of rapid development and dietary change, as children transition from an exclusive milk diet to a modified adult diet. During these early years, children's learning about food and eating plays a central role in shaping subsequent food choices, diet quality, and weight status. Parents play a powerful role in children's eating behavior, providing both genes and environment for children. For example, they influence children's developing preferences and eating behaviors by making some foods available rather than others, and by acting as models of eating behavior. In addition, parents use feeding practices, which have evolved over thousands of years, to promote patterns of food intake necessary for children's growth and health. However, in current eating environments, characterized by too much inexpensive palatable, energy-dense food, these traditional feeding practices can promote overeating and weight gain. To meet the challenge of promoting healthy weight in children in the current eating environment, parents need guidance regarding alternatives to traditional feeding practices.