A mixed methods analysis of maternal response to children's consumption of a palatable food: differences by child weight status

Pediatr Obes. 2019 Mar;14(3):e12474. doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12474. Epub 2018 Oct 22.


Background: Little is known about how mothers respond to their child eating palatable foods.

Objectives: The objectives of the study are to examine maternal behaviours when children are presented with a large portion of energy-dense palatable food in an experimental setting and to examine differences by child weight status.

Methods: Mother-child dyads (N = 37) (mean child age 70.8 months) participated in a videotaped eating protocol with cupcakes. Anthropometrics were measured. Videos were analysed using discourse analysis and were reliably coded for the presence or absence of the most salient theme. Analysis of variance examined theme presence by child and mother weight status.

Results: Mothers disavowed responsibility for their child's eating. Mothers were observed to roll their eyes at the child, throw their hands up in exasperation and distance themselves both physically and emotionally when the child ate the cupcakes voraciously or with high enjoyment. Mothers of children with obesity (vs recommended weight) engaged in more counts of disavowal (p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Mothers of children with obesity distanced themselves from their child, seeming to disavow responsibility for the child's eating of 'junk food'. Mothers may respond to their child's seemingly gluttonous eating by disavowing responsibility due to the stigma of being a parent of a child with obesity.

Keywords: eating; mother-child relations; paediatric obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires