Parental Eating Habits May Play Role in Development of Obesity in Children

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 |

(Boston, Mass.) — According to researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, children whose parents display certain eating behaviors are at a greater risk for developing obesity than children whose parents do not display these behaviors. The study appears in the September issue of International Journal of Obesity.

Using data from the Framingham Children’s Study, the researchers compared children whose parents reported high levels of “restrained eating” (restricting one’s diet to control weight) combined with high levels of “dietary disinhibition” (impulsive eating), with children whose parents did not display these behaviors. Children whose parents reported high levels of restraint and disinhibition were much more likely to gain excessive weight throughout childhood than those whose parents had the lowest levels of these behaviors.

The researchers believe that the effect of restrained eating may be particularly damaging when it is coupled with disinhibited eating. “Parents practicing both of these behaviors may unconsciously undermine their child’s autonomy in food choices,” said Maggie Hood, MPH, lead author of the study and research coordinator with the Framingham Children’s Study in the Section of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine.

“Ideally, we want children to develop internal regulatory cues that guide their eating. Parents who exhibit alternating control and loss of control are probably guided in their own eating by more external than internal factors. These behaviors may be passed on to their children, suppressing their child’s ability to regulate his or her own dietary intake,” she added.

In the final analysis the researchers concluded that highly restrained eating adversely affected the child’s body fat primarily when associated with high parental disinhibition. This research helps to confirm the profound influence that parents can exert on childhood eating patterns that often continue into adulthood. “Parents who want to help their children avoid the effects of poor eating choices and live healthier lives, need to allow their children to develop their own internal dietary regulation, while providing accessible healthy food choices. Also very important are the healthy eating patterns of parents since they often serve as models for their children,” said Hood.

According to Dr. Lynn Moore, the study’s director, researchers are currently exploring whether parents with high dietary restraint scores are more likely to exhibit controlling behaviors in the feeding of their children. The researchers hope that with a deeper understanding of these complex behavioral issues, a two-fold benefit may result for the families-that helping children develop healthy lifestyle behaviors may also motivate the parents to change some of their own less desirable eating habits.