Parental feeding style and the intergenerational transmission of obesity risk

Jane Wardle, Saskia Sanderson, Carol Ann Guthrie, Lorna Rapoport, Robert Plomin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

420 Scopus citations


Objective: This study was designed to determine whether a community sample of obese mothers with young children used different feeding styles compared with a matched sample of normal-weight mothers. Four aspects of feeding style were assessed: emotional feeding, instrumental feeding (using food as a reward), prompting/encouragement to eat, and control over eating. Research Methods and Procedures: Participants were from 214 families with same-sex twins; 100 families in which both parents were overweight or obese and 114 in which both parents were normal weight or lean. Results: We found that obese mothers were no more likely than normal-weight mothers to offer food to deal with emotional distress, use food as a form of reward, or encourage the child to eat more than was wanted. The obese and normal-weight mothers did differ on "control"; obese mothers reported significantly less control over their children's intake, and this was seen for both first-born and second-born twins. Twin analyses showed that these differences were not in response to children's genetic propensities, because monozygotic correlations were no greater than dizygotic correlations for maternal feeding style. Discussion: These results suggest that the stereotype of the obese mother, who uses food in nonnutritive ways so that her child also becomes obese, is more likely to be myth than fact. However, the results raise the possibility that lack of control of food intake might contribute to the emergence of differences in weight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-462
Number of pages10
JournalObesity Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2002
Externally publishedYes


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