Parental emotional health may have an effect on children’s maladaptive eating behaviors, according to study results published in Appetite.
Parents (N=265) were recruited for this study at the University of Houston via the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform in mid-2015. The parents completed a survey about their anxiety and depression symptoms as well as their child’s nonresponsive feeding and emotional eating behaviors.
The parent group comprised 177 mothers and 82 fathers of children (N=53.3% boys) aged between 2.12 and 7.03 years. Most of the parents (83.2%) were married and living together, earned an annual income of between $25,000 and $100,000, and were White (65.3%).
Parents reported scores in the following areas:
- Mean depression (11.05±12.42);
- Anxiety (4.50±4.85);
- Emotional undereating (2.81±0.89);
- Emotional overeating (2.05±0.92);
- Reward feeding for behavior (2.54±1.00);
- Reward feeding for eating (2.57±0.88); and
- Persuasive feeding (3.16±0.68).
All combinations of depression, anxiety, emotional undereating, emotional overeating, reward feeding for behavior, reward feeding for eating, and persuasive feeding scores were positively correlated (all P <.01).
Overall, standardized direct (β, 0.210), indirect (β, 0.225), and total (β, 0.435) effects were found to be significant in the behavior model (all P <.01). The model found that a 1-standard deviation [SD] increase in parental mental health symptoms associated with increased child emotional eating by 0.210 SDs, mediated through nonresponsive feeding behaviors by 0.225 SDs. This model was robust to adjusting for ethnicity, household income, and parent and child genders.
The study is limited by the lack of generalizability, as the study population was dominated by White women who were married and had an annual household income above $50,000 annually.
Study authors concluded, “Findings from this study highlight the importance of focusing on parent mental health because of its association with children’s emotional eating behaviors and thus children’s optimal health and weight outcomes. An important next step would be to replicate these findings with observational and longitudinal studies and to continue investigating the relationship and direction of the relationship between parent mental health, parent feeding practices, and children’s eating outcomes.”
Sampige R, Kuno C, Frankel LA. Mental health matters: parent mental health and children’s emotional eating. Appetite. 2022;180:106317. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2022.106317