Mothers' concerns over preschool eating habits
12 September 2007
Fear of being criticised by others may be leading Australian mums to be overly concerned about preschoolers being underweight, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Sydney's Centre for Overweight and Obesity found mothers feel judged by how their children eat and this makes them worried about their children's eating habits and weight.
"Mums felt they were rewarded if their children were good eaters and criticised if their child was thin or a fussy eater," said Dr Deanna Pagnini, who led the study involving seven focus groups of mothers of two- to five-year-olds.
Many mothers worried about their children being underweight and spent a lot of time trying to get them to eat more, but this could prevent their natural appetite self-regulation from developing and potentially lead to weight problems later on, Dr Pagnini said.
"There's a widespread cultural perception that it's better for a young child to be carrying a bit of 'extra weight' or 'puppy fat' than for them to be 'on the thin side'" Dr Pagnini said.
"Parents expect excess weight will just come off naturally as they grow, but we now know that that's usually not true. Early childhood is a time when many food habits and self-regulation of appetite develop. It is your job to provide the food but it's up to your child to eat what he or she feels like."
The study also found that providing food for their children was a particularly emotional issue for mothers, and that some food concerns were actually related to broader parenting issues.
The study, just published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, also found mums were well aware of the need for children to eat healthily and be active, but they felt factors such as social pressures, financial constraints, supermarket layouts and limited outdoor play areas worked against them.
Dr Pagnini said parents of two- to five-year-olds could make a number of small but important changes: "Switch to whole grain breads and low fat milks, offer water, use small portions, let your children see you enjoying healthy foods, and resist giving children treats every day."
"Turning off the TV and enjoying some active play together is also beneficial. Parents with any concerns about their children should get help from their GP or an early childhood nurse."
Note: The NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity is funded by the NSW Department of Health.
Contact: Kath Kenny
Phone: 02 9351 2261