Objective: To investigate children's ability to self-regulate energy intake and to determine whether individual differences in the precision of food intake regulation are related to children's anthropometric measures. We collected information pertaining to parental adiposity and dieting practices, as well as mothers' child-feeding practices. Of special interest was the degree of control imposed by mothers over their children's food intake. Our intent was to explore whether these variables might influence children's regulation of energy intake.
Subjects and setting: Seventy-seven 3-5-year-old children who attended a university preschool setting and their parents participated in this experiment.
Measurements and main results: Children completed controlled, two-part meals used to estimate their ability to adjust food intake in response to changes in caloric density of the diet. An eating index, reflecting children's precision in the ability to regulate energy intake, was correlated to children's anthropometric measures. These correlations provided evidence for a relation between children's body fat stores and their responsiveness to caloric density cues: Pearson correlation coefficients revealed that children with greater body fat stores were less able to regulate energy intake accurately. The best predictor of children's ability to regulate energy intake was parental control in the feeding situation: mothers who were more controlling of their children's food intake had children who showed less ability to self-regulate energy intake (r = -.67, P < .0001).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that the optimal environment for children's development of self-control of energy intake is that in which parents provide healthy food choices but allow children to assume control of how much they consume.