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Mother Knows Best? Feeding Styles and Child Obesity

Posted Apr 01 2009 3:48pm 1 Comment

The January 2008 issue of Contemporary Pediatrics just came out with a fascinating article by Dr. Julie C. Lumeng regarding mothers, feeding, and child obesity. (By the way, they are quick to point out that they are not just picking on mothers; there is little to no research done regarding fathers so it is not possible to give accurate information involving them). A large part of this article is geared toward mentioning something called "Eating in the Absence of Hunger" (EAH) which is both behaviorally and genetically mediated. This is an important potential cause of obesity and it is vital to be aware of its existence. These children with high EAH seem to eat in response to social cues in the environment; they don't have to be hungry. They also have higher BMIs (body mass index) and thus more likely to be overweight. Are they truly hungry? Or are they bored? Are they tired? Are they stressed or worried? There are two important points to note: 1. It is reported that children of obese mothers demonstrate more EAH than those of non-obese mothers and disinhibition in maternal eating style has been linked to more EAH in their children. In other words, if we, as mothers, eat without any limits or structure ourselves, our children will be obese. Tricky, because is this, then, genetic (child and mother share similar genetic makeup)? Or learned? 2. The more EAH the child demonstrates and the higher the child's BMI, the more restrictive the mother tends to be in her feeding practices. This restrictive feeding style seems to lead, over time, to greater EAH behavior and greater additional weight gain. Other important factors leading to childhood obesity are: a child's temperament -- negativity, emotional, easily angered (frequent temper tantrums tamed temporarily by food), poorly adaptable, intense; voracious, disinhibited eating; cultural influences (higher in African American and Hispanic); and lower socio-economic status. Just a few more facts... Do not compare your child's weight to other children in the same class. In many communities, most children are overweight and the frame of reference for what constitutes a normal body type shifts to accommodate this norm. In addition to the fact that the children find this comparison very distressing. One last note: Between the ages of 4-6 years, most children have lost their baby fat and are as skinny as they will ever be. This matters because parents notice this decrease in their child's size and may respond by prompting the child to eat well beyond satiety. This is a natural, expected time for our child.
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Dr. Fals,


Great Blogs. I am a pediatrician and owner of a company dedicated to children's health through wellness and prevention. I would love to reach out to you and connect. Please check out our website at


Lisa Ramey, DO, FAAP

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