Objective: Identifying parental behaviors that influence childhood obesity is critical for the development of effective prevention and treatment programs. Findings from a prior laboratory study suggest that parents who impose control over their children's eating may interfere with their children's ability to regulate intake, potentially resulting in overweight. These findings have been widely endorsed; however, the direct relationship between parental control of children's intake and their children's degree of overweight has not been shown in a generalized sample.
Research methods and procedures: This study surveyed 792 third-grade children with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds from 13 public elementary schools. Parental control over children's intake was assessed through telephone interviews using a state-of-the-art instrument, and children were measured for height, weight, and triceps skinfold thickness.
Results: Counter to the hypothesis, parental control over children's intake was inversely associated with overweight in girls, as measured by body mass index, r = -0.12, p < 0.05, and triceps skinfolds, r = -0.11, p < 0.05. This weak relationship became only marginally significant when controlling for parents' perceptions of their own weight, level of household education, and children's age. No relationship between parental control of children's intake and their children's degree of overweight was found in boys.
Discussion: Previous observations of the influence of parental control over children's intake in middle-class white families did not generalize to 8- to 9-year-olds in families with diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. The present findings reveal a more complex relationship between parental behaviors and children's weight status.