Prevalence of disordered eating behaviors among young overweight children and the effects of parental control of feeding

New research presented at The Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting on Sept. 21 found that it was common for young overweight children to hide, hoard, or sneak food. They also found that parental control of eating behaviors was associated with children eating even if they were not hungry.

“More than a quarter of overweight and obese kids in our study were sneaking, hiding, or hoarding food,” said Kendrin Sonneville, the lead author of the study. “It is unclear why children are engaging in this behavior and it is troubling that this behavior is so common.”

The study included 419 overweight or obese children ages 2 to 6 that participated in the High Five for Kids study. The researchers had the parents of the children fill out questionnaires about the children’s food behaviors and their control over their children’s eating.

The researchers found that among a diverse sample of presently or previously overweight school-age children, eating in the absence of hunger (17 percent), food sneaking, hiding, and hoarding (27 percent), and parental control of feeding (58 percent) were common. Eating in the absence of hunger was more common among children with parents who endorsed parental control of feeding. However, no differences in food sneaking, hiding, or hoarding were seen based on parental control of feeding.

Sonneville thinks that future inquiries should be dedicated to learning more about these poorly understood and potentially problematic disordered eating behaviors.

“More research is needed to help us understand why young children are developing an unhealthy relationship with food,” said Sonneville, “and what impact this has on their weight.”

The Obesity Society Annual Meeting is taking place from Sept. 20-24. The meeting brings together leading players in the field of obesity and is a forum for increasing knowledge, stimulating research, and promoting better treatment for those affected by the disease.

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