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Toddlers Eat Healthier if Parents Set Rules

Update Date: Nov 08, 2014 10:58 AM EST

Childhood obesity can lead to dangerous health conditions. One of the key ways to prevent obesity is to educate children about healthy eating and nutrition. In a new study, researchers from the University at Buffalo found that when parents set rules for food, young children were more likely to eat healthier.

"Parents can make a difference here by training young children to self-regulate and also by setting food rules in the home," said Xiaozhong Wen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and senior author on the research. "We found that the combination of parental rules and young children's ability to self-regulate their behaviors works best in teaching young children to eat healthy."

For this study, the researchers examined the children's ability to self regulate at the age of two. For the purpose of this study, self-regulation was defined as having the ability to override emotional or behavioral responses, such as irritability and whimpering. The researchers then linked self-regulation to the children's eating habits at the age of four.

"We found that children who were able to self-regulate at 2 years old had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4 years old, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat," Wen said according to Medical Xpress. "We found that self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in children's later eating habits."

Neha Sharma, a co-author and recent UB graduate from the Department of Psychology, added, "It is amazing to see that a parental rule about which types of food a child can and cannot eat could have such a great impact on child eating habits. Without these boundaries set by caregivers, the benefits of high self-regulation on weight gain and childhood obesity could be diminished. This illustrates just how important parental involvement is in influencing child eating habits."

The study was based on a subsample of 8,850 children taken from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B).

The study was presented at the ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston, MA.

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