Moms Who Nag Kids Create Picky Eaters

Many of us have heard our moms say things to us like, “No dessert until you finish your vegetables,” or “Clean your plate.”  A new study from the United Kingdom suggests the rules moms set to make sure kids are getting a balanced diet, may in fact reduce a child’s ability to respond to internal hunger and fullness cues. In turn, these children grow up to become adults who either are picky eaters or may overeat.

The researchers discovered that moms restricting foods was associated with an “overreaction” response to food among the kids, meaning a tendency to overeat. Furthermore, pressuring children to eat–either because they don’t eat much or seemed too thin–was associated with children avoiding food, eating slowly, refusing new foods and generally not enjoying food: the hallmarks of “picky eating.” The study concluded that moms do influence eating behaviors and food attitudes in their children. The results showed moms’ feeding styles were the same for boys and girls.

Past studies have shown that mothers’ concerns about their child’s weight or eating habits may lead to restricting certain foods and parental pressure has been associated with fussy eating and fear of trying new foods. This study’s unique design involved psychological measures of multiple aspects of eating behavior, and looked at eating not as single behaviors but as more general traits. More than 240 families participated with children aged 7 to 9, and moms were asked to answer eating behavior questionnaires to ascertain how frequently their children exhibited eating-related behaviors like eating too much if allowed and getting full before their meal was finished. Other questionnaires assessed how likely moms were to pressure their children to eat even if they claimed not to be hungry.

Possible mechanisms for food responsiveness proposed in the past are based on the idea that, while .  However, the opposite is also possible. In other words, moms of children who happen to be highly responsive to food may tend to restrict certain foods as a result. Fortunately, no studies have shown that nagging causes overweight children to gain more weight.

It’s hard not to nag your child about eating habits—with all the apocalyptic news that modern parents are inundated with, it’s easy to get uptight about food choices. Nonetheless, these findings raise awareness about how influential parents can be in so many aspects of their children’s lives.

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