Many parents believe the best way to prevent their children from becoming obese is to limit their intake of calories or withhold particular types of foods altogether. However, a new study from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill challenges this belief. The study supports growing evidence that, in the long term, these tactics actually may produce the opposite effect.
[Photo: Allowing children to eat only certain kinds of foods or limiting their intake of food can cause unintended effects, a new UNC study found. ‘Restrictive feeding’ actually can increase children’s weight gain. Photo by David Goehring]
“Our results show that limiting access to certain foods – ‘restrictive feeding,’ as we call it – was related to a higher weight status in children,” said Dr. Myles S. Faith, the study’s senior investigator and associate professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Dr. Faith said that highly restrictive or controlling feeding practices, while well-intentioned, paradoxically may increase a child’s consumption of the withheld food. “Foods that are withheld might become more desired or sought after, a kind of ‘forbidden fruit,’” Dr. Faith said. “When children eventually do get access to these foods, perhaps outside of the home, they might overeat because they finally have that opportunity.” Dr. Faith said that restrictive feeding might disrupt children’s ‘satiety responsiveness’ (the ability to recognize when we are full) and even may impede children’s learning of this skill. “At the same time,” he said, “parents may restrict in response to their children’s weight status. If a child is heavier, the parent may attempt to limit food access, so there is a bit of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ challenge in trying to understand which comes first – heavier body weight or restrictive feeding.” The study, “Differential Maternal Feeding Practices, Eating Self-Regulation and Adiposity in Young Twins,” appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.