Food parenting practices and their association with child nutrition risk status: comparing mothers and fathers
Establishing healthful dietary habits in early life is important as childhood dietary patterns have been shown to track into later life. The practices parents use when feeding their children may influence children’s dietary habits. These practices, also known as food parenting practices, refer to the behaviours or actions (intentional or unintentional) implemented by parents that influence their child’s attitudes, behaviours or beliefs about food1.
Most research examining how food parenting practices are associated with children’s dietary intake has focused solely on mothers. Recent changes in women’s employment patterns, increasing number of single fathers, and evolving social norms regarding fathers’ roles in the home, suggest that research should also examine fathers role in household food parenting practices2, 3.
We conducted an observational study looking at the associations between food parenting practices and child nutrition risk.
Cross-sectional analysis of thirty-one, 2-parent families with 40 preschool-age children
Using data from the Guelph Family Health Study, we compared mothers’ and fathers’ food parenting practices scores to their children’s nutrition risk status. Food parenting practices were assessed using a modified version of the Comprehensive Feeding Practices Questionnaire (CFPQ), which evaluates 11 identified food parenting practices. Child nutrition risk status was evaluated using a parent-reported NutriSTEP score. We ran linear regression models, utilizing a Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) approach to account for children from within the same household. Household income, child age, child sex, and parental body mass index (BMI) were included in the models as covariates.
Children involved in meal preparation have lower nutrition risk status
We found that of the 31, two-parent families included, mothers and fathers who (a) provided a healthy home food environment, and (b) involved children in meal planning and prepping, were more likely to have children with lower nutrition risk status. Parents who used controlling food parenting practices, i.e., using food as a reward for behaviour (mothers) and pressuring children to eat and restricting certain foods (fathers) were more likely to have children with a higher nutrition risk status. In fathers, it was found that those who modelled healthy eating behaviours were associated with children with lower nutrition risk status; this same association was not found among mothers.
Recommendations for parents at home
Our study findings compliment results from existing studies underscoring the association between specific food parenting practices and child health. In addition, our findings suggest that future research and interventions aimed at understanding or improving food parenting practices should engage both mothers and fathers.
Although the cross-sectional design of this study cannot support causal relationships between these practices and child nutrition status, there are many ways parents can practice healthful food parenting in their home. These include encouraging both parents to:
- Provide a home environment that supports healthy dietary habits (i.e., provide a variety of foods that promote a balanced and nutritious diet)4;
- Involve young children in planning meals, grocery shopping, and meal prep activities;
- Model healthy eating behaviours in front of children (e.g., refrain from voicing a distaste for strong tasting vegetables, try new foods in front of children)5;
- Avoid coercive food parenting practices (e.g., using pressure to encourage children to eat or using treats to reward good behaviour)1,4,6,7.
Based on: Watterworth, J.C., Hutchinson, J.M., Buchholz, A.C., Darlington, G., Randall Simpson, J.A., Ma, D.W.L., & Haines, J. (2017). Food parenting practices
and their association with child nutrition risk status: comparing mothers and fathers. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 42: 667-671.
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