Observations of Maternal Feeding Practices and Styles and Young Children's Obesity Risk: A Longitudinal Study of Hispanic Mothers with Low Incomes

Child Obes. 2021 Jan;17(1):16-25. doi: 10.1089/chi.2020.0178. Epub 2020 Dec 1.


Background: Maternal feeding practices and styles are well-established correlates of children's BMI z-scores in the preschool years. Most studies, however, are cross-sectional, using maternal self-reports to examine feeding. This study examined, over a 3½-year period, the relationship between observed and self-reported feeding practices/styles and children's BMI z-scores in a sample of Hispanic mothers with low incomes and their preschool children. Methods: One hundred eighty-seven mothers were observed feeding their 4- to 5-year old during a buffet meal in a laboratory setting and completed self-report measures on their feeding practices and styles. Children's BMI z-scores were assessed at this visit and 3½ years later. Results: Consistent with previous research, observed and self-reported pressure to eat and/or authoritarian feeding were negatively associated with children's BMI z-scores at the first time point; observed discouraging eating was positively associated. However, children's BMI z-scores 3½ years later, controlling for Time 1 BMI z-scores, were positively associated with observed pressure to eat. Observed maternal reasoning and self-reported monitoring of children's eating behavior at Time 1 were negatively associated with later BMI z-scores. Only self-reported feeding styles predicted later children's BMI z-scores, with indulgent and authoritative styles positively associated with children's BMI z-scores at the third time point. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that mothers who ignore their children's fullness cues and pressure them to eat have children who are at greater risk for the development of later obesity. Implications for the development of family-focused childhood obesity prevention programs are discussed.

Keywords: Hispanic; childhood obesity; feeding practices; feeding styles; low income; observations.