Background: Worldwide, the prevalence of obesity among children has increased dramatically. Although the etiology of childhood obesity is multifactorial, to date, most preventive interventions have focused on school-aged children in school settings and have met with limited success. In this review, we focus on another set of influences that impact the development of children's eating and weight status: parenting and feeding styles and practices. Our review has two aims: (1) to assess the extent to which current evidence supports the hypothesis that parenting, via its effects on children's eating, is causally implicated in childhood obesity; and (2) to identify a set of promising strategies that target aspects of parenting, which can be further evaluated as possible components in childhood obesity prevention.
Methods: A literature review was conducted between October 2006 and January 2007. Studies published before January 2007 that assessed the association between some combination of parenting, child eating and child weight variables were included.
Results: A total of 66 articles met the inclusion criteria. The preponderance of these studies focused on the association between parenting and child eating. Although there was substantial experimental evidence for the influence of parenting practices, such as pressure, restriction, modeling and availability, on child eating, the majority of the evidence for the association between parenting and child weight, or the mediation of this association by child eating, was cross-sectional.
Conclusion: To date, there is substantial causal evidence that parenting affects child eating and there is much correlational evidence that child eating and weight influence parenting. There are few studies, however, that have used appropriate meditational designs to provide causal evidence for the indirect effect of parenting on weight status via effects on child eating. A new approach is suggested for evaluating the effectiveness of intervention components and creating optimized intervention programs using a multiphase research design. Adoption of approaches such as the Multiphase Optimization Strategy (MOST) is necessary to provide the mechanistic evidence-base needed for the design and implementation of effective childhood obesity prevention programs.