Do Dads Make a Difference? Family Feeding Dynamics and Child Fussy Eating

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Objective:Few studies on child feeding have focused on family dynamics or disadvantaged families, yet feeding occurs in the complex social, economic, and relational context of the family. We examined how the level (high vs low) and concordance (concordant vs discordant) of nonresponsive feeding practices of mothers and fathers are associated with child fussy eating, in a socioeconomically disadvantaged Australian sample.Methods:Mother-father pairs (N = 208) of children aged 2 to 5 years old independently completed validated questionnaires reporting their “persuasive feeding,” “reward for eating,” “reward for behavior,” and child's “food fussiness.” The fussiness scores did not differ between mother-father pairs and were averaged to derive a single dependent variable. K-means cluster analyses were used to assign mother-father pairs to clusters for each feeding practice, based on mean scores. Three ANCOVAs, corresponding to each feeding practice, tested differences in child fussiness across clusters while controlling for covariates.Results:Four clusters were identified for each feeding practice—concordant: (1) high (MHi/FHi) for both parents and (2) low (MLo/FLo) for both parents; and discordant: (3) high for mother but low for father (MHi/FLo); and (4) low for mother but high for father (MLo/FHi). For “persuasive feeding,” MLo/FLo reported lower levels of fussiness compared with MHi/FLo, MHi/FHi, and MLo/FHi (p values < 0.05). For “reward for eating,” MLo/FLo reported lower levels of fussiness than did MHi/FHi (p < 0.05). Child fussiness did not differ across “reward for behavior” clusters.Conclusion:In socioeconomically disadvantaged families, when parents are concordant in avoiding nonresponsive feeding practices, less child “food fussiness” is reported. Findings suggest that feeding interventions should consider inclusion of both parents in 2-parent households.

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