A mother’s perception of personal hunger and her child’s hunger may be associated with a greater number of calories being served to her child during meals, according to study findings.
“As such, it is reasonable to speculate that maternal weight status, and the weight status of the child, may be positively associated with the amount of food that mothers serve their children,” David M. Janicke, PhD, professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida, and Sarah E. Stromberg, MS, a doctoral candidate at Florida, wrote. “Another possible factor that could impact calories served, which has received little attention in the literature, is maternal perception of her personal hunger and her child’s hunger. Mothers who perceive themselves as hungry may project their hunger onto their child, thus perceiving their child to be hungrier than they actually are in reality.”
To test their hypothesis that total calories served to a child are linked to the mother’s BMI and her perception of the child’s hunger, the researchers conducted an observational, cross-sectional study. After the children (aged 3 to 6 years) briefly played, 29 mother-child dyads shared a meal from an experimental menu in a laboratory setting. The amount of food served and consumed by the child was recorded. The main independent variables were the mothers’ BMI, child BMI z-score and mothers’ perception of child hunger. The primary dependent variable was the number of calories served by the mothers.
On average, mothers served 573 calories to their child, and the average child consumed 445 calories. Results showed a positive correlation between the calories served and calories consumed (B = 0.768, t = 6.23, P < .001, r2 = 0.59). Janicke and Stromberg wrote that scores were significantly higher in overweight and obese children vs. children of healthy weight.
Maternal perception of her hunger coincided with the assumption that her child was as hungry and with the number of calories served (B = 77.95, t = 2.258, P = .032, r2 = 0.11). Perception was only significantly associated, however, with obese mothers who had BMI scores greater than the 75th percentile.
“Past research with anxious and depressed mothers has shown that mothers are more likely to project their distress onto their children, as demonstrated by over-reporting psychological symptoms and behavior problems in their children,” the researchers wrote. “It appears that this concept of maternal projection of personal states may also apply to personal perception of hunger.” – by Kate Sherrer
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.