Portion sizes for children are predicted by parental characteristics and the amounts parents serve themselves

Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Apr;99(4):763-70. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.078311. Epub 2014 Jan 29.


Background: Children's energy intakes are influenced by the portions they are served. Factors influencing the amounts adults offer children are not well described.

Objective: We assessed whether the amounts that were served to and consumed by children at meals were related to amounts that parents served themselves.

Design: In this repeated-measures, cross-sectional observational study, 145 parents and their preschoolers (82 Hispanic, 57 African American, 6 unidentified) were recruited from Head Start settings in Houston, TX. The amounts served to and consumed by children and parents during 3 at-home evening meals were measured and analyzed. We assessed children's and parents' heights and weights, and body mass indexes (BMIs) were calculated. Associations between portions served for parents and children and between amounts served to and consumed by children were evaluated. Multiple linear regression was used to determine whether maternal characteristics (race-ethnicity, sociodemographic factors, and caregivers' BMIs) predicted the amounts caregivers served to children.

Results: The amounts that parents served themselves were significantly associated with the amounts that they served to their children (r = 0.51, P < 0.0001). Multiple regression analysis showed that African American parents (compared with Hispanics) served more food to themselves and to their children (P < 0.01, R² = 6.9%) and that employed (compared with unemployed) parents served more food to their children (P = 0.025, R² = 3.3%). The amounts served to children were strongly associated with the amounts children consumed (r = 0.88, P < 0.0001). When parents served more to themselves, they also served more to their children (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: These findings underscore the strong relation between portions offered by caregivers and the amounts children consume at a meal and suggest that factors unrelated to the child (such as the amount a parent serves himself or herself) are important predictors of children's consumption. Efforts aimed at improving parents' recognition of developmentally appropriate portions for young children could be useful for future obesity-prevention efforts.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American
  • Child Behavior* / ethnology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Early Intervention, Educational
  • Energy Intake / ethnology
  • Family Health* / ethnology
  • Feeding Behavior* / ethnology
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior* / ethnology
  • Meals / ethnology
  • Parent-Child Relations / ethnology
  • Paternal Behavior* / ethnology
  • Portion Size* / adverse effects
  • Portion Size* / ethnology
  • Self Care / adverse effects
  • Texas
  • Urban Health / ethnology