Objective: To identify maternal beliefs and practices about child feeding that are associated with the development of childhood obesity.
Design: Four focus groups. One group of dietitians from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in the Northern Kentucky Health District and 3 groups of mothers with children enrolled in WIC.
Setting: The WIC program in the Northern Kentucky Health District.
Participants: Fifteen WIC dietitians and 14 mothers (14 to 34 years of age) with young children (12 to 36 months of age) enrolled in WIC.
Results: The mothers in this study (1) believed that it was better to have a heavy infant because infant weight was the best marker of child health and successful parenting, (2) feared that their infants were not getting enough to eat, which led them to introduce rice cereal and other solid food to the diets before the recommended ages, and (3) used food to shape their children's behaviors (eg, to reward good behavior or to calm fussiness). The mothers acknowledged that some of their child-feeding practices went against the advice of their WIC nutritionists and physicians. Instead, the participants relied on their mothers as their main source of information about child feeding.
Conclusions: Physicians and allied health professionals discussing childhood growth with mothers should avoid implying that infant weight is necessarily a measure of child health or parental competence. Parents who use food to satisfy their children's emotional needs or to promote good behavior in their children may promote obesity by interfering with their children's ability to regulate their own food intake. Interventions to alter child-feeding practices should include education of grandmothers.