Parental feeding practices are thought to influence children’s weight status, through children’s eating behavior and nutritional intake. However, because most studies have been cross-sectional, the direction of influence is unclear. Moreover, although obesity rates are high among Latino children, few studies of parental feeding practices have focused on this population.
This 2-year longitudinal study examined mutual influences over time between parental feeding practices and children’s weight status, in Mexican American families with children 18 years old at baseline. Mothers (n = 322) and fathers (n = 182) reported on their feeding practices at baseline, 1-year follow-up, and 2-year follow-up. Weight status, defined by waist-height ratio (WHtR) and body mass index (BMI), was ascertained at all assessments. Cross-lagged panel models were used to examine the mutual influences of parental feeding practices and child weight status over time, controlling for covariates.
Both mothers’ and fathers’ restriction of food predicted higher subsequent child weight status at Year 1, and for fathers this effect was also found at Year 2. Mothers’ and fathers’ pressure to eat predicted lower weight status among boys, but not girls, at Year 1. Child weight status also predicted some parental feeding practices: boys’ heavier weight predicted mothers’ less pressure to eat at Year 1, less use of food to control behavior at Year 2, and greater restriction at Year 2; and girls’ heavier weight at Year 1 predicted fathers’ less pressure to eat and less positive involvement in child eating at Year 2.
This study provides longitudinal evidence that some parental feeding practices influence Mexican American children’s weight status, and that children’s weight status also influences some parental feeding practices. Feeding practices of both mothers and fathers were related to children’s weight status, underscoring the importance of including fathers in research on parental feeding practices and child obesity.