Controlling kids’ food may not lead to obesity


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Among childhood obesity’s many alleged culprits are mothers who control what their children eat. It’s long been thought that a mother’s food restrictions may contribute to her kids gaining too much weight.

But a new study published recently online in the journal Obesity could disprove that. Researchers studied 789 boys and girls in nearly equal numbers, calculating changes in their body mass index between the ages of 4 and 7, and 7 and 9, to determine how their mothers’ restrictive feeding affected how much weight they gained -- or didn’t gain. The data were from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s study of early child care and youth development.


Mothers were also asked, ‘Do you let your child eat what he/she feels like eating?’ Answers were scored on a four-point scale, from ‘definitely no’ to ‘mostly no,’ ‘mostly yes,’ and ‘definitely yes.’

While researchers found no correlation between a rise in mothers controlling their kids’ eating and weight gain later on, there were (perhaps not surprisingly) some differences in how they behaved with boys and girls. If mothers increased their control over their sons’ food from ages 4 to 7, the boys were less likely to increase their BMI from ages 7 to 9.

However, if their daughters showed substantial weight gain from ages 4 to 7, mothers tended to increase their control over food.

Those gender differences weren’t lost on the researchers. Lead author Kyung Rhee with the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at the Miriam Hospital, said in a release, ‘Our findings mirror those of other studies that have found that parents are much less likely to recognize or be concerned about the overweight status of sons compared to daughters. These behaviors may represent a sensitivity to societal values that girls should be slim while boys have a physical or social advantage in being larger.’

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times