How fathers influence their children’s eating habits
April 15, 2020

Childhood obesity is something that is discussed very frequently. Whether it is about the rise of childhood obesity, how to prevent it, or even what causes it, the topic has been trending for years. In a time of increasing childhood obesity rates, a lot of research is being conducted to learn more about it. Recently,  during my ACES 399 seminar, Dr. Brent A. McBride, Director of the Child Development Laboratory and professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, gave an in-depth analysis on a study he completed with an interesting scope. 

Dr. McBride analyzed how the father of a child, aged 18-24 months, influences their eating habits, and in the long run, their weight. The objective of the study was, “to explore the utility of an observational coding scheme designed to assess fathers’ participation in responsive feeding practices during mealtimes with their young children.” 

He recorded 77 father figures and their child during mealtimes to collect data. Dr. McBride and his fellow researchers observed how the behaviors of the father influenced the child. While the sample size was relatively small, the researchers were able to gain solid insights regarding childhood obesity. After monitoring all the meals that the father fed to their child, it was concluded that a variety of behaviors were executed. 

Researchers examined three things: coercive control, autonomy support, and structure. Coercive control, which is essentially pressuring someone to do something with bribes or threats, was not seen frequently. Levels of autonomy support, such as praising, encouraging, and reasoning with the child, were low as well. It is interesting that neither coercive control or autonomy support was demonstrated higher than the other. 

The last focus was structure. This section included variables such as accessibility to healthy food, whether the father monitored the child’s eating, if the father modeled healthy eating habits, and more. These results were higher than coercive control and autonomy support; however, they still did not score very high. Overall, the results were able to provide insights on the wide range of ways that a father feeds his young children. Some were encouraging, some pressured the child, and others did not do much. 

Dr. McBride's research depicted the relationship between how a child is nurtured by their father during eating and how it effects their habits. With childhood obesity continuing to rise, these methods of gathering data are crucial to determine factors that influence it.

Students in ACES 399: “Vision 2050 –Grand Challenges of the Millenium” attend presentations by ACES faculty members about current topics in agriculture. As part of their class assignments, students are asked to write blog posts reflecting on those topics. The Voices of ACES blog will feature select ACES 399 blog posts throughout the semester.