Parental feeding style and childhood obesity
This thesis examines the association between parental feeding and children's eating behaviour and adiposity. Past research is inconsistent, with some studies finding that higher parental control is associated with adverse effects in terms of unhealthy food choices, disordered intake regulation and obesity, and others indicating positive effects. Discrepancies may relate to variability in parental control measures, sample characteristics and research methods. Study 1 examined the factor structure of two existing measures of parental feeding in 190 parents of 3-5 year olds, and Study 2 added interview and diary data in a sub-sample of these parents. Several distinct dimensions of parental control emerged and a wide range of motivations underlying feeding practices was apparent. In Studies 3 and 4, control was assessed using an improved measure in a socio-economically diverse sample of 541 parents. Pressuring to eat and instrumental feeding were more common in lower socio-economic (SES) parents, while restriction was more frequent with higher SES. Child adiposity was unassociated with restriction or instrumental feeding but negatively associated with pressure to eat. This relationship could be partly explained by parents' putting more pressure on thinner children with less appetite for food, although other explanations also fit the data. Study 5 added to the longitudinal literature on parental control, finding a negative prospective association between pressure to eat and weight gain from 4 to 7 years. Study 6 assessed regulation of intake over a two-part meal in a sample of 4-5 year olds, and found some evidence for a negative association between regulation and parental monitoring. Study 7 showed that children with slower eating rates and lower meal intakes had parents who exerted more pressure to eat, but found negligible associations between parental feeding and eating without hunger. The importance of these findings for understanding how parents influence children's weight is discussed.