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Maternal personality affects child's eating habits
Date:4/3/2009

Mothers with many negative thoughts and feelings are more likely to give their children unhealthy food. This is shown in a study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in collaboration with the University of Oslo.

This is the first research project in the world that analyses children's diets combined with both psychological and sociodemographic variables in the mother. As part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, a total of 27 763 mothers were asked how often and how much their 18 month old child ate of 36 types of food and drink. By this age, children learn to prefer sweet and fatty food over healthy food.

- We found that mothers who were emotionally unstable, anxious, angry, sad, had poor self-confidence or a negative view of the world were far more likely to give their child sweet and fatty foods. At the same time, there was no link between maternal personality and how healthy a diet the child got in the form of fruit and vegetables, explains psychologist Eivind Ystrm at the NIPH.

These maternal personality traits fall under a collective name of high negative affectivity (negative emotions). These people often have a lower stress threshold, giving up quicker when faced with obstacles e.g. in a disagreement and often experience lack of control of the child.

"I think that mothers compensate for this either by trying to force healthy food into their child or hold the sweet-bag strings extra tightly. Paradoxically, they try to balance poor control by actually using more control. With force and restrictions they increase desire which quickly results in resistance in the form of tantrums which these mothers are also bad at resisting. Also, earlier studies have shown that controlling behaviour among parents is linked with a more sugar-rich diet among children."

Aid to nutritional advice

Ystrm believes that knowledge about the link between the parents' personality traits and
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Contact: Julie Johansen
julie.johansen@fhi.no
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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