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HomeHealthy EatingRestrictive Feeding Can Make Children Overeat

Restrictive Feeding Can Make Children Overeat

Restrictive Feeding Can Make Children Overeat

Often the very efforts parents make to help their children limit “junk foods” only increases the children’s desire for these very foods. A recent study at Penn State has provided some new data about how restrictive feeding by mothers can produce a pattern of eating without hunger in their daughters (Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:215).

Leann Birch and her colleagues studied 197 girls who were participating in a longitudinal study of the health and development of young girls and their parents in central Pennsylvania. The girls and parents were first assessed when the girls were 5 years old, then reassessed at 7 and 9 years of age.

Studying the influence of hunger on food intake

The girls were studied in several sessions where they had free access to a variety of snacks. To minimize the influence of hunger on intake, before the sessions each girl had a standard lunch where she and 3 to 6 other girls of the same age could eat as much as they wanted. Immediately after lunch, the girls recorded their hunger with the use of 3 figures representing “hungry,” “half-full,” and “full.”

Right after lunch, during the free-access session, each girl was asked to rate small (2-bite size) portions of 10 sweet and savory snack food varying in fat and energy content. After this, the girl was told that she could play with the toys or eat any of the foods while the experimenter did some work in the adjacent room. The experimenter then left the room for 10 minutes. When the experimenter returned, the girl was interviewed about whether her parents let her have the foods provided and how she felt about eating during the session.

A questionnaire for the mothers

At the three assessments, the mothers were also questioned about their child-feeding practices and their perception of their daughter’s risk for overweight, using the Child Feeding Questionnaire. The questionnaire has a restriction subscale, which measures the extent to which mothers control how much, when, and what their children eat. The extent to which mothers keep track of what their daughters eat, and the mother’s tendency to pressure girls to eat more food, especially during meals was evaluated, as was the mother’s perceptions of her daughter’s weight history and concern about the daughter’s weight.


The authors’ study provides the first longer-term data that when mothers restrict feeding, their daughters are more likely to eat without being hungry. By 7 years of age, girls who were exposed to high levels of restriction by their mothers had higher eating without hunger scores than did girls who had low levels of restriction. By 9 years of age, restriction was modified by an interaction between weight status and restriction. Overweight girls exposed to higher levels of restriction had the highest scores. Follow-up analysis indicated that girls who were overweight and who were exposed to high levels of maternal restriction showed the greatest increases in eating without hunger across time.

Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Review
July/August 2003 Volume 14, Number 4
©2003 Gürze Books


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