Purpose: According to the Department of Human Health Services, the majority of American children consume inadequate quantities of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Parents who are aware of their children’s failure to meet federal nutrition recommendations may engage in behaviors such as force-feeding or calorie-compensation to mitigate the perceived nutrition gap. Recent research suggests that these practices can impair children’s healthy eating behaviors, making it more difficult for children to maintain healthy weights. To date, no studies have examined the extent to which children’s food preferences influence the feeding behaviors of their parents. The purpose of this study was to determine the behavioral responses of parents to picky eaters. Methods: In an anonymous questionnaire delivered via Amazon Mechanical Turk, parents were asked to rate their pickiest child’s eating habits on a six-point scale. Next, respondents reported whether they feed their child extra food to make up for missing calories and vitamins/nutrients, force their child to eat, and “give up” arguments about food consumption with their child. Parents indicated the extent to which their child chooses to eat the same meals repeatedly and eats specific brands of certain foods. Finally, parents evaluated whether their child’s eating habits are normal compared to the eating habits of other children their age. Two-sample t-tests were used to compare the behavior of parents of picky and non-picky eaters. Results: A total of 622 parents responded to the questionnaire. Children of responding parents were 56% Male; (mean age=7.3 years; 12.7% Hispanic/Latino; 79.8% White, 8.3% Black, 11.9% Other, with 496 (79.9%) classified as picky eaters. Compared to parents of non-picky eaters, parents of picky eaters were more likely to report that they frequently force their child to eat (t=-3.8, p<.05) and often give up arguments about food consumption with their child (t=-7.4, p<.05; Table 1). There was no significant difference in evaluations of their child’s eating habits between parents of picky and non-picky eaters. Conclusion: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages force feeding and advises parents of picky eaters to continue exposing their children to a variety of nutritional foods. Despite these guidelines, many parents of picky eaters report that they engage in force-feeding and give up on arguments about food with their children. With the reported prevalence of picky eating, clinicians should inquire about children’s eating habits and recommend resources to help support parents.
Parental Management of Picky Eaters: Common Parenting Pitfalls
Ruth Milanaik, Tamara F. Kahan, Nallammai Muthiah, Kate Fruitman, Sharnendra Sidhu; Parental Management of Picky Eaters: Common Parenting Pitfalls. Pediatrics August 2019; 144 (2_MeetingAbstract): 210. 10.1542/peds.144.2MA3.210
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