Moms - Babies Know Best

Obesity risk linked to food insecurity and controlling feeding styles of mothers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Researchers are learning more about how obesity develops from complex factors beyond just eating too much. One factor may be a fear of not having enough food for one's children.

A recent study reveals that food insecurity, or the anxiety about whether a person will have enough food to be sure their family is well fed, might play a part in why some children go on to become severely overweight.

"Follow your doctor's recommendations on feeding your baby."

Rachel Gross, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, and her colleagues conducted interviews with 201 low-income primarily Hispanic mothers of babies under 6 months old.

The mothers were all enrolled in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) government program, a federal program that provides education and specific food subsidies to low-income women.

Among the issues Gross's team asked about were the moms' feeding styles and feeding practices, such as whether they tried to control the amount of food their babies ate and whether they breastfed, added cereal to baby's bottles, gave their babies juice or other practices.

The researchers also asked the women about whether they had any concerns about their children becoming overweight since previous research has shown a link between baby's feeding patterns and risk of becoming obese later on.

The researchers adjusted their calculations to take into account the baby's age and gender as well as the ethnicity, education level and depression symptoms of the mother.

The researchers found that 35 percent of the women reported feeling worried that they might not be able to provide enough food for their children. These women were also more likely to try to control how much their babies ate by either restricting their food or pressuring their babies to eat more.

These types of controlling feeding style has been linked in previous studies to an increased risk for obesity for the child.

The researchers also found a link between moms' feelings of food insecurity and their greater concern that their child may become overweight later on, though this link became less significant whether researchers adjusted it for the mom's feeding styles.

No association was found between the feeding practices of the mothers, such as whether they breastfed or whether they gave their babies cereal or juice, and their feelings of food insecurity.

Dr. Gross said that one theory regarding how mothers' feeding styles might influence a child's future obesity risk relates to whether the child has an opportunity to learn when they are full versus when they need more food.

If a mother tries to control how much her baby eats, by either restricting the amount eaten or encouraging the child to eat more, the child's ability to regulate hunger and fullness may be hijacked, Dr. Gross said. This could set a pattern that points toward overeating and inappropriate weight gain.

"Increased concern about future overweight and controlling feeding styles represent potential mechanisms by which food insecurity could be related to obesity," the researchers concluded. "Obesity prevention policies should aim to both decrease the overall rates of food insecurity and reduce controlling feeding styles in families that remain food insecure."

Dr. Gross elaborated on the value of understanding how food insecurity feelings might influence the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

"Understanding the reasons why poverty puts families at greater risk of obesity is essential to addressing the epidemic," Dr. Gross said.

"This work suggests that in addition to addressing hunger and malnutrition, it is critical that policy efforts be made to work with food-insecure families to prevent the opposite problem — obesity," she said.

The study was presented April 28 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. It has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Pediatrics. Information regarding funding or potential conflicts of interest were unavailable.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 28, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012