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Keywords:

  • feeding behavior;
  • body weight;
  • hunger;
  • parent;
  • child

Abstract

Objective: To better understand risk factors for the development of obesity in early childhood, we examined the association between children's adiposity and their parents' eating behavior and body mass index (BMI).

Research Methods and Procedures: Parents of 85 white children 36 months of age (49 boys and 36 girls) completed the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire measuring three dimensions of parent eating behavior: disinhibited eating, cognitive restraint of eating, and susceptibility to hunger. Parent BMI (kg/m2) was calculated using self-reported height and weight. The children's percentage body fat was assessed by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry analysis.

Results: Twenty-six percent of parents were obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2). Both maternal and paternal BMI were associated with higher scores for disinhibition (r = 0.69 and r = 0.68, p < 0.001), and maternal BMI was also associated with higher scores for hunger (r = 0.51, p < 0.001). There were no significant relationships between children's percentage body fat and parent eating scores, and the correlation between children's percentage body fat and parent BMI was significant only between mothers and daughters (r = 0.35, p = 0.04). Obese parents were no more likely to have a child who was fatter (upper quintile of percentage body fat for gender).

Discussion: Among 36 month-old white children, parent eating behavior was related to parent BMI, but not to children's adiposity. There was only a weak relationship between parent BMI and child adiposity. Despite the aggregation of adiposity within families due to shared genes and environments, children may not express differences in susceptibility to obesity by 3 years of age.