Feeding behaviors of low-income mothers: directive control relates to a lower BMI in children, and a nondirective control relates to a healthier diet in preschoolers

Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 May;95(5):1031-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.024257. Epub 2012 Mar 28.


Background: A topic of interest in the etiology of child obesity is whether and how parental feeding behaviors are associated with the food intake and weight status of children.

Objective: The objective was to explore whether and how directive (overt) and nondirective (covert and food environmental structure) types of parental feeding control were associated with children's food intake and weight status.

Design: This was a cross-sectional exploratory study using structural equation modeling to determine directional associations between maternal feeding practices and children's food intake and weight status. Researchers collected data from 330 dyads of children aged 3-5 y and mothers participating in a federal preschool program for low-income families (Head Start) in Michigan. The mothers' feeding practices (directive and nondirective control), the children's food intakes, and the height and weight of both the mothers and children were measured. Structural equation models tested the relations between maternal feeding practices, the children's food intake, and weight status.

Results: The structural equation model confirmed that children's weight status was inversely associated with mothers' directive control, and mothers' nondirective control was associated with children's intakes of more nutrient-dense foods and less energy-dense foods. No association was found between the mothers' directive control and the children's food intakes.

Conclusions: Mothers' use of nondirective feeding practices was associated with children's intakes of more nutrient-dense foods. However, use of more directive feeding control was associated with lower weight status in preschoolers of low-income mothers. These findings need to be examined in longitudinal studies. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01525186.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diet*
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Michigan
  • Mothers
  • Poverty*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01525186