Background. Parental feeding styles were linked to child weight in cross-sectional studies, which were unable to test the direction of effect. Prospective studies can best establish causal relationships among such variables.
Objective. We tested the 2-year stability of parental feeding attitudes and styles and investigated whether these variables predict child body mass index (BMI) z scores 2 years later. We evaluated whether these associations were dependent on children’s predisposition to obesity.
Methods. Participants were 57 families enrolled in an Infant Growth Study of children born at high risk or low risk for obesity, on the basis of maternal prepregnancy overweight or leanness. Children were evaluated for weight and height at 3, 5, and 7 years of age. Measures of parental feeding attitudes and styles were ascertained with the Child Feeding Questionnaire at 5 and 7 years of age. Correlation and multiple regression analyses tested whether parental feeding styles at age 5 predicted increased child BMI z scores 2 years later.
Results. Parental feeding attitudes and styles were stable for child ages of 5 to 7 years. With respect to feeding attitudes, perceived responsibility at age 5 predicted reduced child BMI z scores at age 7 among low-risk families, whereas child weight concern and perceived child weight predicted increased child BMI z scores among high-risk families. With respect to feeding styles, monitoring predicted reduced child BMI z scores at age 7 among low-risk children. In contrast, restriction predicted higher BMI z scores and pressure to eat predicted reduced BMI z scores among high-risk children. These associations remained significant after controlling for child weight status at age 3.
Conclusions. The relationship between parental feeding styles and child BMI z scores depends on child obesity predisposition, suggesting a gene-environment interaction. Among children predisposed to obesity, elevated child weight appears to elicit restrictive feeding practices, which in turn may produce additional weight gain. Parenting guidelines for overweight prevention may benefit from consideration of child characteristics such as vulnerability to obesity and current weight status.
- Accepted April 26, 2004.
- Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Pediatrics