Mother knows best? Feeding styles and child obesity

“Look how well she eats!”

The issue: A voracious eating style that goes all the way back to infancy or toddlerhood has been linked to an increased risk of overweight. Like EAH, being a voracious eater is also thought to be a genetic trait.

Why it matters: The mother may perceive a child like this as having a robust appetite, and may respond by feeding the child more than she would a child who doesn’t have this trait.

Starting the conversation: “Some children are very careful, selective, and slow in their eating. Others are enthusiastic eaters who dive right in, eat a lot, eat it quickly, and really enjoy it. What’s your child’s eating style? Most people really like to see children who love to eat. Do you feel that way about it? Do you think it’s a good thing, or does it seem like a problem? Have you ever changed the way you feed her because of her eating style? What do you think is the best way for a mother to respond to different eating styles?”

Particular temperaments, or styles of interacting with the environment, have also been linked to an increased risk of overweight. Children who are particularly distractible, active, inattentive, and unpredictable are more likely to be overweight. Children with externalizing behavior problems or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also known to be at risk for being overweight.

To function well, these uninhibited children may need more external control from their parents in all areas of life. Controlling how the child eats may be just one more example of how mothers modify their feeding behavior to meet the behavioral needs of the child.

The child who lacks inhibitions

The issue: A child with a disinhibited temperament.

Why it matters: Children who are less inhibited temperamentally also seem to be less inhibited about eating, and this behavioral style has been linked with a higher risk of overweight.

Starting the conversation: “Children have different ways of reacting to new situations. Some hang back and want to come to understand the situation, while others like to jump right in. Some parents tell me their child is very focused, selective, and careful about eating, while other parents say their children are uninhibited, enthusiastic, busy eaters. How would you describe your child? Does your child’s way of approaching eating have an effect on their nutrition, do you think? Is that ever a problem for you? What works well in dealing with it?”

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