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Parental Control of Eating Leads to Lighter Toddlers

Pushing child to eat more or less food had same effect on weight at age 2, study says

MONDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Controlling what your toddlers consume, either by trying to get them to eat less or to eat more, can lead to a lower weight by the age of 2, new British research suggests.

While a lower weight may be desirable in adults, it's not always in the best interest of a young child, according to the report in the January issue of Pediatrics.

"Nutrition is extremely important in infancy and childhood. In the first two years, the child is growing in height and weight and the brain is growing, so it's extremely important that proper nutrition is provided," explained Dr. Brenda Kohn, a pediatric endocrinologist and an associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine and Medical Center in New York City.

The study authors wanted to better understand the role that parental attitudes toward food played in their child's eventual weight. Previous studies had suggested that when a parent tries to control food intake, it would eventually result in an overweight child, whereas a child who was pressured to eat seemed to end up weighing less.

Sixty-two women were recruited for the study. The average age was 32, and for the majority of the women -- 41 out of 62 -- this was their first child. Most of the women were employed in either professional or administrative positions before the birth of their child.

The mothers all completed a feeding questionnaire when the children were 1, and the youngsters were weighed at 1 and 2 years.

The researchers found that two feeding practices -- restricting food and pressuring to eat -- resulted in lower than average weight scores.

"The findings of this study suggest that, as early as 1 year of age, controlling feeding practices can be causal in predicting child weight," the study's authors wrote.

Dana Rofey, a psychologist in the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said this study is "very interesting," but added that she'd really like to see what happens to these children as they grow older, because many studies have found an association between childhood obesity and controlling feeding behaviors.

"Previous research in older children has shown that the more autonomy the kids have, the less likely they are to act out. For adolescents, the more restrictive their parents are -- the more they act like the food police -- the more likely the adolescent is to eat out of emotional reasons," she said.

Kohn said the take-away message from this study is that parents should work with their child's pediatrician to optimize feeding practices and nutrition and to pass along a "positive attitude about feeding."

Rofey said the most important thing parents need to know about feeding toddlers is that they don't need to eat the same portions as adults do. "The most common thing we see parents with young toddlers do is try to feed them adult portions," she said.

For a 2-year old, a serving of milk is 4 ounces and a serving of meat, poultry or fish is just 1 ounce, according to Rofey. One-half cup of pasta or a half of a small bagel constitutes a grain serving for a toddler, and just a couple of tablespoons is a vegetable serving. A small piece of fruit or 4 ounces of fruit juice is the correct portion for a 2-year old, according to Rofey.

And, when it comes to trying new foods, Rofey recommended being patient. It can take offering a new food more than a dozen times before your child will like the food.

More information

Read more about feeding your toddler at the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Brenda Kohn, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist, New York University Medical Center, and associate professor, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Dana Rofey, Ph.D., psychologist, Weight Management and Wellness Center, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and assistant professor, pediatrics and psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; January 2008, Pediatrics

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