Parents influence child weight through interactions that shape the development of child eating behaviors. In this study we examined the association between maternal autonomy promoting serving practices and child appetite regulation. We predicted that maternal autonomy promoting serving practices would be positively associated with child appetite regulation. Participants were low-income Latino children-a group at high risk for the development of childhood obesity. A total of 186 low-income Latina mothers and their 4-5 year old children came to a laboratory on two separate days. On the first day, mothers and children chose foods for a meal from a buffet and were audio/videotaped so that maternal autonomy promoting serving practices could be later coded. On the second day, children completed the Eating in the Absence of Hunger (EAH) task to measure child appetite regulation. Mothers also completed the Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire (CEBQ) to measure other aspects of child appetite regulation (food responsiveness, satiety responsiveness, and emotional overeating). Maternal autonomy promotion during serving was assessed using seven separate measures of child and maternal behavior. Principal components analyses of these serving measures yielded three components: allows child choice, child serves food, and mother does not restrict. Consistent with hypotheses, maternal autonomy promoting serving practices (i.e., allows child choice and does not restrict) were negatively associated with maternal reports of child food responsiveness and emotional overeating (CEBQ). The results for the EAH task were more complex-mothers who were autonomy promoting in their serving practices had children who ate the most in the absence of hunger, but this linear effect was moderated somewhat by a quadratic effect, with moderate levels of autonomy promotion during serving associated with the greatest child EAH.
Keywords: Appetite regulation; Children's Eating Behavior Questionnaire; Eating in the absence of hunger; Feeding behaviors; Head Start; Preschoolers.
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