Telling Kids to Clean Plate May Backfire
'Controlling' food behavior messages are counterproductive, study finds
Examples of restrictive behaviors were positive responses to statements such as, "I have to be sure that my child does not eat too many sweets," or "If I did not guide or regulate my child's eating, he or she would eat too much of his or her favorite food."
Examples of pressure-to-eat behaviors were positive responses to statements such as, "My child should always eat all of the food on his or her plate," or, "If my child says, 'I am not hungry,' I try to get him or her to eat anyway."
The researchers found that restrictive food behaviors were more common in parents who had overweight or obese children. Pressure-to-eat behaviors were more common in parents of children who were normal weight.
One expert noted that what is a normal weight has been skewed in recent years.
"There's now so much obesity in the United States that when we see a child who is normal weight, inevitably, a parent will think the child is too skinny," said Dr. Michael Hobaugh, chief of the medical staff at LaRabida Children's Hospital in Chicago. "But if a pediatrician charts that child's height and weight, he or she may even be overweight. There's a wide range of normal, and for many teens it's normal to be slender and gangly. Children aren't supposed to be shaped like linebackers."
The study also found that fathers were more likely to use pressure-to-eat behaviors, and adolescent boys were more likely to be pressured to eat by their parents than were adolescent girls.
Both Loth and Hobaugh said a better way is for parents to model healthy eating behaviors.
"Children will eat like you do. You have to model portion control and good food choices," Hobaugh said. "The whole family needs to make a decision together to increase the amount of fruits and veggies, and to reduce empty calories from drinks."
"Parents need to allow their children to have freedom when eating," Loth added. "Parents can control the types of foods that are on the table, and you can bring lots of healthy food to the table. Then let your child choose how much they want to eat. Let them regulate their own intake."