Influence of Parents' Eating Behaviors and Child Feeding Practices on Children's Weight Status

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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effects of mothers' and fathers' eating behaviors, child feeding practices, and BMI on percentage body fat and BMI in their children.
RESEARCH METHODS AND PROCEDURES: Four hundred fifty-eight parents (239 mothers, 219 fathers) were asked to complete two questionnaires: the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire and the Child Feeding Questionnaire, which measure dimensions of parent eating behavior and child feeding practices, respectively. Parent BMI was calculated from self-reported height and weight; children's measures included BMI and percentage fat assessed by DXA. Regression analyses were used to analyze relationships between parents' BMI and questionnaire scores and children's weight status.
RESULTS: One hundred forty-three mothers and 68 fathers returned questionnaires, representing parents of 148 children 3 to 5 years old (78 boys). Children's weight was related to mothers' BMI, but not fathers'. Girls had a greater BMI if either parent reported being overweight as a child, and both girls and boys were likely to be overweight if their mothers believed they had risky eating habits (fussiness, eating too much, etc.). Girls with fathers who were more controlling had a higher percentage fat; these fathers were also more concerned about their daughters' future health.
DISCUSSION: Mothers exert a strong influence over their children's weight and seem to be more concerned about their children's eating behaviors; however, fathers play a role in imposing child feeding practices. Gender bias may be present in child feeding, as suggested by dissimilar effects of parent practices on the weight status of girls vs. boys. Fathers should be included in future studies analyzing parent feeding practices and children's weight outcome.

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