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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Finds Hungry Parents May Feed their Kids More

The hungrier parents are at mealtimes, a new study shows, the more they may feed their young children.

In a small pilot study of 29 children ages 3 to 6 and their mothers, University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions researchers asked the mothers to rate their hunger as well as their child’s hunger prior to a meal. Among women who were overweight or obese, those who rated their own hunger higher also perceived their child’s hunger as higher, and in turn, served their child larger portions of food. The findings appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Because young children have difficulty recognizing when they are full, the more food they are presented at mealtime, the more they are likely to eat,” said lead investigator Ms. Sarah Stromberg, a clinical psychology doctoral student in the department of clinical and health psychology.

The study was designed to determine what factors might impact how much food parents are serving their young children.

“If we can start to identify those factors we might be able intervene to help parents develop more appropriate portion sizes for younger kids, which hopefully can lead to a longer life of healthy eating habits,” said senior author  Dr. David Janicke, a professor of clinical and health psychology.

Previous research has found that parents with depression and anxiety may be more likely to believe that their children are experiencing the same psychological symptoms. Ms. Stromberg and Dr. Janicke wanted to examine whether that kind of “projecting” of parents’ feelings onto their children might hold true for perceptions of hunger.

The researchers found that for mothers who were heavier, higher ratings of their personal hunger were related to rating their child’s hunger as higher. Those mothers also tended to dish out more food to their children than mothers who were in a healthy weight range.

The researchers also discovered that regardless of a mother’s weight or perceptions of hunger, most of the participants served their child portions that were larger than recommended daily allowances. Mothers served 573 calories, on average, to their child, with children consuming an average of 445 calories. The suggested daily intake for children in the 3- to 6-year-old range is 1,000 to 1,400 calories. Ideally, one meal for a child that age would not exceed 400 calories, Ms. Stromberg said.

Resources such as can help parents determine how many calories their children should consume, she said.

“Using those recommendations can help parents be objective when serving their kids and not base portion sizes on their own hunger or how much they are serving themselves,” Ms. Stromberg said.

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