Parenting and Childhood Obesity: Current Findings and Future Directions

The prevalence of obesity in early childhood years is increasing at an alarming rate in the last decades (De Onis et al., 2010). This rapid increase is worrying because early childhood obesity is generally persistent and is related to negative physiological and psychological outcomes, concurrently and longitudinally (Eschenbeck et al., 2009; Reilly & Kelly, 2011). Therefore, there is a growing interest in areas that can be ameliorated to prevent obesity in early childhood years and beyond. Previous research showed that parenting is of prime importance in the development of obesity and habits related to obesity in early childhood years (Birch et al., 2001). Especially, maternal child-feeding behaviors (i.e., restrictive feeding, pressuring the child to eat, monitoring child’s food consumption) and parenting styles (especially authoritarian and authoritative parenting) were suggested to be important predictors of obesity (Lohaus et al., 2009; Ventura & Birch, 2008). In this talk, I will present findings from my research about the roles of parenting styles and child-feeding behaviors in obesity/overweight problems in preschool years. I will also share preliminary findings about another research in which we investigated the associations between retrospectively recalled maternal child feeding behaviors and concurrent weight problems in young adults. Finally, I will discuss the limitations of the findings in the current literature about parenting and obesity and my future research program aiming to overcome some of these limitations.