Parental Influence on Eating Behavior: Conception to Adolescence


  • Jennifer S. Savage,

    1. Research assistant in the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at the Pennsylvania State University.
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  • Jennifer Orlet Fisher,

    1. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and is also a research scientist at the U.S.D.A. Children's Nutrition Research Center where her research focuses on modifiable aspects of food intake regulation in early development.
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  • Leann L. Birch

    1. Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Nutritional Sciences at the Pennsylvania State University and director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research.
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The first years of life mark a time of rapid development and dietary change, as children transition from an exclusive milk diet to a modified adult diet. During these early years, children's learning about food and eating plays a central role in shaping subsequent food choices, diet quality, and weight status. Parents play a powerful role in children's eating behavior, providing both genes and environment for children. For example, they influence children's developing preferences and eating behaviors by making some foods available rather than others, and by acting as models of eating behavior. In addition, parents use feeding practices, which have evolved over thousands of years, to promote patterns of food intake necessary for children's growth and health. However in current eating environments, characterized by too much inexpensive palatable, energy dense food, these traditional feeding practices can promote overeating and weight gain. To meet the challenge of promoting healthy weight in children in the current eating environment, parents need guidance regarding alternatives to traditional feeding practices.