How Weight Status Influences Parental Feeding Practices


March 6, 2018 by: Jerica M. Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE Article Tags: ,

Because of the high prevalence of adolescent obesity and the health problems that have been shown to follow overweight/obese adolescents into adulthood (e.g., cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, psychosocial problems), it is important to identify factors in the home that influence adolescents’ health behaviors on a daily basis and that are changeable in order to prevent obesity. Parent feeding practices, or behaviors parents use to get their child to eat less or more food, are one important influence in the home environment that may be changeable.

Previous studies that looked at parent feeding practices have distinguished between parent food restriction (e.g., encourage child to eat less food) and pressure-to-eat (e.g., encourage child to eat more food) practices, both of which have generally been found to increase the risk for overweight and obesity in children and adolescents. In order to develop effective interventions to change parent feeding practices in the home, research must better understand the predictors of these feeding behaviors. 

One such predictor of parent feeding practices may be weight status. Specifically, a parent’s weight status (e.g., parent is overweight/obese and uses food restriction), an adolescent’s weight status (e.g., adolescent is overweight/obese and parent uses food restriction), or the combination of both the adolescent’s and the parent’s weight status (e.g., parent and adolescent are both overweight/obese and parent uses food restriction). The current study was conducted to answer the following research question: are parent feeding practices, including pressure-to-eat or food restriction, associated with parent’s own weight status, their adolescent child’s weight status, or both of their weight status?

A study was conducted with adolescents (n = 2,153; 54% females; mean age = 14.4 years) and their parents (n = 3,252; 63% females; mean age = 42.6 years) from socio-economically and racially/ethnically diverse backgrounds. These families were part of two linked studies, EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens) 2010 and F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity among Teens). Adolescents had their heights and weights measured and took a survey at school. Mothers and fathers self-reported their heights and weights and took a survey at home.

Results of this study identified two key findings of which parents and health care providers should be aware. First, parents used the highest amounts of pressure-to-eat feeding practices when both parents and adolescents were both non-overweight compared to all other combinations of similar and different parent/adolescent weight status categories. Second, parents used the highest amounts of food restriction when parents and adolescents were both overweight/obese compared to all other combinations of similar and different parent/adolescent weight status categories.

These study results can inform health care providers which parent/adolescent dyads are at highest risk for experiencing food restriction or pressure-to-eat parent feeding practices in the home environment and whom to target in interventions. In addition, it would be important for parents to identify which category they may find themselves and their adolescent child in to try and avoid engaging in restriction or pressure-to-eat feeding practices with their children.

Jerica M. Berge

Jerica M. Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE

Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE is an assistant professor, researcher, and behavioral medicine provider in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Berge’s research interest is in examining risk and protective factors for childhood and adolescent obesity in the home environment. She also conducts research on integrated care in primary care settings, with a focus on interprofessional collaborations between mental health, medicine and pharmacy.