Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding practices promotes girls' eating in the absence of hunger

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Aug;78(2):215-20. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.2.215.


Background: Experimental findings causally link restrictive child-feeding practices to overeating in children. However, longitudinal data are needed to determine the extent to which restrictive feeding practices promote overeating.

Objectives: Our objectives were to determine whether restrictive feeding practices foster girls' eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) and whether girls' weight status moderates the effects of restrictive feeding practices.

Design: Longitudinal data were used to create a study design featuring 2 maternal restriction factors (low and high), 2 weight-status factors (nonoverweight and overweight), and 3 time factors (ages 5, 7, and 9 y).

Results: Mean EAH increased significantly (P < 0.0001) from 5 to 9 y of age. Higher levels of restriction at 5 y of age predicted higher EAH at 7 y of age (P < 0.001) and at 9 y of age (P < 0.01). Girls who were already overweight at 5 y of age and who received higher levels of restriction had the highest EAH scores at 9 y of age (P < 0.05) and the greatest increases in EAH from 5 to 9 y of age (P < 0.01).

Conclusions: The developmental increase in EAH from 5 to 9 y of age may be especially problematic in obesigenic environments. These longitudinal data provide evidence that maternal restriction can promote overeating. Girls who are already overweight at 5 y of age may be genetically predisposed to be especially responsive to environmental cues. These findings are not expected to be generalized to boys or to other racial and ethnic groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*