New paper: Young children’s eating in the absence of hunger: links with children’s control abilities, their weight status, and maternal controlling feeding practices.

In order to tackle childhood obesity, it is important to know what contributes to weight gain in children. An eating behaviour of interest in this context is “eating in the absence of hunger” (EAH) which has been associated with increased energy intake and weight status in children. To prevent overweight and obesity children, it is thus interesting to study this eating behaviour more properly and what influences this behaviour or contributes to its development. Past studies found that both the child’s temperament (particularly inhibitory control, which is the ability to control your behaviour in response to a stimulation) and parental feeding practices can play a role, but the results of these different studies have been inconsistent.

Therefore, Kaat Philippe (ESR7) and her colleagues at INRAE Dijon conducted a study with 621 French mothers of children aged 2-6 years to gain a better understanding of the associations between children’s EAH, their inhibitory control, body mass index (BMI) and several maternal controlling feeding practices. The practices “food as reward”, “restriction for health”, and “restriction for weight control” were selected because they are supposed to impact children’s intake regulation of food.

The results showed, as expected, that children who eat more in the absence of hunger have higher BMI scores. This indicates that it is relevant to study this eating behaviour in children.

Kaat and her colleagues also found that children with a lower inhibitory control and children with mothers who use higher levels of the practices food as reward and restriction for health, ate more in the absence of hunger. By contrast, restriction for weight control was not linked to children’s EAH, but was predicted by the child’s BMI. This may mean that mothers mainly use this practice as a response to the child’s weight status.

Overall, the results of this study indicate that it may be useful to guide parents in avoiding the use of controlling feeding practices because they may have a counterproductive effect on the child’s eating behaviour. They may divert children’s attention from their internal sensations of hunger and fullness, and make the forbidden foods even more attractive to the child. Children with a lower inhibitory control may also be at a higher risk of having maladaptive eating behaviours (e.g., more difficulties to resist the intake of tasty foods). This should be taken into account when promoting healthy eating in children.

The paper is published in Frontiers in Psychology:

Philippe, K., Chabanet, C., Issanchou, S., & Monnery-Patris, S. (2021). Young children’s eating in the absence of hunger: links with child inhibitory control, child BMI, and maternal controlling feeding practices. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 653408.



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