In order to take the pressure off of children to eat certain foods, parents should be educated in an approach based on "division of responsibility" (DOR) for eating, according to a team led by Dr. W. Stewart Agras of Stanford University.
The finding supports the theory that the DOR approach can improve a healthy development of appetite and eating behaviors in young children.
Eating Behaviors Are Improved with EducationThe research consisted of 62 families with a toddler (aged 2 to 4) who had a high chance of obesity, with at least one obese or overweight parent.
The DOR concept was taught to one group of parents, which took a child-development approach to "parent/child feeding interactions." Dr. Agras explained. "At the family level parent feeding practices, such as taking control over their child's eating, appear to contribute to childhood overweight."
Parents in the DOR approach group took responsibility for providing and serving food, while the kids chose how much they ate, if they decided to eat at all. "The primary principle is that crossing parent or child boundaries leads to feeding problems," the authors revealed.
The other group of parents were taught about a program that seeks to promote healthy eating and increase physical activity, called the "We Can" program by the National Instistute of Health.
Compared to those educated about the "We Can" program, parents educated in the DOR approach were, at follow-up, easing up on the pressure they put on their child to eat.
Researchers identified two parental factors that affected the pressure to eat:
- "disinhibition"- reflecting how often the parents overeat
- parents' hunger or food cravings
Moreover, a decrease might have been seen in positive feeding practices because of this approach that teaches parents to promote the eating of healthy foods.
Caregivers in the DOR group were less likely to restrict food choices in girls, but not in boys. The authors suggest it may be because parents are more concerned about girls' eating behaviors, "in line with the greater concern about female weight and shape," they said.
Kids who have a high risk of becoming obese are those whose parents are obese or overweight, meaning that the family could be imposing "maladaptive" eating patterns.
The findings also suggest that overly involved parents, such as parents taking excessive control over their child's eating, contribute to the child being overweight because it interferes with the child's perceptions of hunger and feeling satisfied.
This study, even though it is only preliminary, adds to the theory that teaching parents the DOR approach will put less pressure on the kids when it is time to eat. In order to determine whether the changes lead to a lesser chance of childhood overweight or obesity, a larger study with longer follow-up is needed.
Dr Agras and his team concluded, "Efforts to increase consumption of healthy foods in toddlers should include counseling parents to model eating such foods and not to pressure children to eat them."