November 10, 2014
2 min read

Food intake self-regulation, parental rules during toddler years influenced eating habits later

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Toddlers who exhibited greater self-control over their personal food intake were more likely to have healthy eating habits later in childhood, according to research presented at Obesity Week 2014.

“Higher general self-regulation at 2 years old is associated with healthier eating habits at 4 years old, including more fruits and vegetables, and less soda, salty snacks, sweets and fast foods, ” Xiaozhong Wen, PhD, department of pediatrics, University of Buffalo, New York, told Endocrine Today.

“This potential beneficial effect of early self-regulation on later diet seems to be strengthened by parental rule about [the] types of food the child should eat,” Wen added.

Wen, along with Neha Sharma, a graduate of the department of psychology, Amherst campus, and colleagues from the institution examined eating habits in relation to self-regulation and potential moderators using data from 8,850 children (50.9% boys) involved in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (2001-2007).

Parents reported self-regulatory behaviors observed in their 2 year olds from a list of seven: fussiness, crying, unable to wait, distractible, need help to sleep, attention problems and difficulty shifting focus. Two years later, the parents reported children’s food consumption.

The researchers used multivariable linear regression models to examine associations of 2-year self-regulation with 4-year food intake. Adjustments were made for 18 confounders including socio-demographic factors, pregnancy and birth characteristics, breastfeeding duration and time solids were introduced to diet.

Parental rules about food type at age 4 years was considered as a moderator for associations; 76.1% of the children has such rules.

Children’s food intake at 4 years varied based on self-regulation at 2 years. At 4 years, the adjusted mean intake difference per day between children without parental food rules in highest and lowest self-regulation quintile at 2 years was –0.04 (95% CI, –0.18 to 0.09) for soda, –0.09 (95% CI, –0.19 to 0.01) for salty snacks, –0.06 (95% CI, –0.18 to 0.05) for sweets, –0.04 (95% CI, –0.12 to 0.04) for fast foods, 0.09 (95% CI, –0.05 to 0.23) for fruits and 0.03 (95% CI, –0.1 to 0.16) for vegetables.

For children with parental food rules, the mean difference per day between highest and lowest quintiles was –0.16 (–0.22 to –0.1) for soda, –0.05 (–0.10 to 0) for salty snacks, –0.09 (–0.15 to –0.03) for sweets, –0.03 (–0.06 to 0) for fast foods, 0.08 (0 to 0.15) for fruits and 0.08 (0.01 to 0.16) for vegetables.

“Our novel findings emphasize the importance of general self-regulation in young children,” Wen said. “To better help young children to establish healthy eating habits, pediatricians and caregivers should consider the interaction between self-regulation and parental rule of food type.”

Further investigation is needed to collect more detailed information and possible interventions, Wen noted.

“Future research needs to collect … data on parental food rule such as the type, amount, consistency across ages and settings, data from both parents and other caregivers including daycare teachers,” Wen said. “To prove causality, randomized controlled trials are needed to test the effect of self-regulation training program in young children on the development of their eating habits and obesity risk.” — by Allegra Tiver

For More Information: Sharma N. Abstract T-3115-OR. Presented at: Obesity Week; Nov 2-7, 2014; Boston.

Disclosures:  The researchers report no relevant disclosures.