Can Mothers Influence Their Child's Eating Behavior?

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ABSTRACT.This study examined the relationship between general maternal parenting style, maternal eating cues, and a child's eating behavior during mealtime. We expected that the general style would relate to the number of specific eating cues and that mothers who used more eating prompts would have children that ate more and at a faster rate. Seventy-seven children (39 girls, 38 boys), aged 3.5 years, visited the laboratory with their mothers for a videotaped lunch. Videotapes of each laboratory visit were coded for the child's eating rate and maternal parenting style, which was measured as the level of maternal control and support and the number and type of eating prompts given during a meal. Caloric intake was also calculated. The number and rate of verbal and physical encouragements and discouragements were significantly related to measures of general maternal parenting style and meal duration. The rates of food offers, food presentations, and total prompts were all signilicantly related to the child's rate of calorie intake. However, a mother's level of support or control was not related to the child's eating behavior. Although general maternal parenting style did not predict the child's eating behavior, these behaviors were related to the frequency of maternal eating prompts, which in turn were significantly related to the number of calories eaten and the time spent eating by the child. Children who ate the fastest had mothers who delivered eating prompts at a higher frequency. These findings may have implications for the development of obesity later in childhood, as a function of rapid eating or of poor self-regulation.

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