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Researchers Study How Parenting Styles Influence Children’s Eating Habits

Posted by Jennifer Martin, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA's rich science and research portfolio

If there is one thing you can count on during the holidays, it is food – and in large quantities! While you may not be able to avoid the endless stream of Christmas treats, our eating habits the rest of the year are really important. Especially those we teach our children.

With funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Sheryl Hughes, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, identified three common feeding styles among parents of young children and determined which one is the most successful in building healthy eating habits in children. Of the three feeding styles identified (overcontrolling, indulgent and responsive), the responsive style leads to children leading the healthiest lifestyles.

Did you parents ever tell you to “clean your plate”? This phrase is used by many overcontrolling parents who try to control what and how much their children eat in an attempt to ensure their kids are eating the right kinds of foods. However, this approach doesn’t allow children to decide how much to eat based on how hungry they are, and it puts them at risk for obesity because they ignore their internal cues of fullness.

Indulgent parents try to keep their children happy and make sure they have enough to eat by giving them whatever and as much as they want. Food is used to comfort the child, but this may lead to children eating large portions of high-calorie foods and weight gain.

Hughes found that responsive parents provide their children with healthy choices, but allow them to decide how much they want to eat. This parenting style teaches children to be aware of internal clues of fullness, which makes them less likely to overeat. And these parents also have more success in getting children to try new foods.

The video below, produced by Hughes, shows how the responsive parenting style works in the home.

As a parent, it may take some time to become comfortable with the responsive style, but the payoff will be worth it as your children learn to pay attention to when they are full and start making healthy eating choices – choices that will last a lifetime.

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Jan 19, 2011

if that is the case,well then i'm glad to be enlightened early on than make the same grave mistake and let my children suffer in the long run..thank you for this article..

Eric Smart
Feb 04, 2011

Single parenting related stress for women often pertain to how she could manage her household while she works her way to earn a living for 8 to 9 hours during the day. There are self help books that offer good advice for singles moms on how to deal with these factors. Also do not hesitate to look for support from family or friends. This will in no way be you failing as a parent. These people often understand some of the pressures that you are under and will be more than likely willing to help. SPAOA.ORG is loaded with additional information.