Study Shows Food-insecure Mothers Use Different Parenting Strategies

sph | June 8, 2015

A recent study involving researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found parenting practices related to eating and weight differ between food-secure and food-insecure mothers.

Photo by: More Good Foundation
Photo by: More Good Foundation

The research was part of Minnesota’s Project EAT, conducted by Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor in the School of Public Health, and Katherine Bauer, assistant professor in the College of Public Health at Temple University.

Food insecurity, or having limited access to nutritional food, has many negative effects on children’s overall health. Children who lack vital access to food often have less healthy diets and are prone to micronutrient deficiencies, such as anemia. In some studies, growing up in a food-insecure household has been associated with a higher risk of obesity. Food insecurity is also related to educational and behavioral issues among children.

“We were very disturbed by the high percentage of adolescents and their families from Minneapolis and St. Paul, who participated in EAT 2010, who experienced food insecurity,” said Neumark-Sztainer. “In fact, over one-third of the families had some level of food insecurity.”

Studies of families with young children have found that food insecure mothers pressure their children to eat and use parenting strategies that encourage the consumption or overconsumption of high-calorie foods. Families with low food security also report more frequent fast food trips for family meals and less frequent inclusion of fruits and vegetables in family meals.

The study by Neumark-Sztainer and Bauer was the first to look at the parenting of teenagers in food-secure versus insecure homes. Results showed that mothers in food-insecure homes were more likely to report using parenting practices that encouraged restriction of eating and dieting among their teenagers. Mothers from food-insecure families were also more likely to comment on their child’s weight compared to mothers from food-secure homes.

These findings suggest that contrary to how food insecure mothers approach eating with their young children, food-insecure mothers of teens are more likely to use parenting practices aimed at limiting eating. The use of these parenting practices may be driven by a belief that teens can go without food more easily than young children or eat at locations other than home such as school or friends’ homes.

To address these issues tied to food insecurity, Neumark-Sztainer and Bauer suggest that in addition to increasing access to healthy food for food-insecure families, programs may have longer-lasting effects on families’ health if they help parents develop more health-promoting parenting strategies related to food and eating.

“Many parents, both food-insecure or not, may benefit from understanding how often well-intentioned parenting messages can be counter-productive,” said Bauer. “Encouraging children to diet, commenting on children’s weight, and excessively restricting food, even less healthy food, has been associated with use of maladaptive eating behaviors and harmful weight control methods among adolescents.”

~ Originally posted on AHC Health Talk by Katie Huggins

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