Background: In young children, the eating environment is an important social context within which eating behaviors develop. Among many low-income young children, the responsibility for feeding may have shifted from family members to child care providers because these children spend the majority of their day in child care settings.
Methods: To examine the influence of feeding among low-income children in child care settings, feeding behaviors of child care providers in Head Start were observed and food consumption was assessed. Head Start, a comprehensive child development program that serves children from ages 3 to 5, was chosen because of the large percentage of minorities, the low-income status of the families, and the age of the children. Fifty child care providers (25 African-American; 25 Hispanic) randomly selected from Head Start centers in a large, urban southwestern city were observed on three mealtime occasions and self-reported feeding styles were assessed. Observed feeding behaviors were categorized into four feeding patterns based on their conceptual similarity to a general parenting typology (i.e., authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and uninvolved). Measures of food consumption were assessed on 549 children sitting with the child care providers during lunch at the Head Start centers.
Results: Indulgent feeding behaviors were positively related to children's consumption of vegetables, dairy, entrée, and starch; authoritative feeding behaviors were positively related to dairy consumption.
Conclusion: This research highlights the important influence that child care providers have in the development of healthy and unhealthy eating behaviors in minority children. Implications for intervention training for child care providers to promote healthy eating among Head Start children are discussed.