A narrative review of psychological and educational strategies applied to young children's eating behaviours aimed at reducing obesity risk


Dr L Gibson, Department of Psychology, University of Roehampton, Whitelands College, Holybourne Avenue, London SW15 4JD, UK. E-mail: l.gibson@roehampton.ac.uk


Strategies to reduce risk of obesity by influencing preschool children's eating behaviour are reviewed. The studies are placed in the context of relevant psychological processes, including inherited and acquired preferences, and behavioural traits, such as food neophobia, ‘enjoyment of food’ and ‘satiety responsiveness’. These are important influences on how children respond to feeding practices, as well as predictors of obesity risk. Nevertheless, in young children, food environment and experience are especially important for establishing eating habits and food preferences. Providing information to parents, or to children, on healthy feeding is insufficient. Acceptance of healthy foods can be encouraged by five to ten repeated tastes. Recent evidence suggests rewarding healthy eating can be successful, even for verbal praise alone, but that palatable foods should not be used as rewards for eating. Intake of healthier foods can be promoted by increasing portion size, especially in the beginning of the meal. Parental strategies of pressuring to eat and restriction do not appear to be causally linked to obesity, but are instead primarily responses to children's eating tendencies and weight. Moderate rather than frequent restriction may improve healthy eating in children. Actively positive social modelling by adults and peers can be effective in encouraging healthier eating.