Parenting around child snacking: development of a theoretically-guided, empirically informed conceptual model

Background:
Snacking contributes to excessive energy intakes in children. Yet factors shaping child snacking are virtually unstudied. This study examines food parenting practices specific to child snacking among low-income caregivers.
Methods:
Semi-structured interviews were conducted in English or Spanish with 60 low-income caregivers of preschool-aged children (18 non-Hispanic white, 22 African American/Black, 20 Hispanic; 92 % mothers). A structured interview guide was used to solicit caregivers’ definitions of snacking and strategies they use to decide what, when and how much snack their child eats. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using an iterative theory-based and grounded approach. A conceptual model of food parenting specific to child snacking was developed to summarize the findings and inform future research.
Results:
Caregivers’ descriptions of food parenting practices specific to child snacking were consistent with previous models of food parenting developed based on expert opinion
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. A few noteworthy differences however emerged. More than half of participants mentioned permissive feeding approaches (e.g., my child is the boss when it comes to snacks). As a result, permissive feeding was included as a higher order feeding dimension in the resulting model. In addition, a number of novel feeding approaches specific to child snacking emerged including child-centered provision of snacks (i.e., responding to a child’s hunger cues when making decisions about snacks), parent unilateral decision making (i.e., making decisions about a child’s snacks without any input from the child), and excessive monitoring of snacks (i.e., monitoring all snacks provided to and consumed by the child). The resulting conceptual model includes four higher order feeding dimensions including autonomy support, coercive control, structure and permissiveness and 20 sub-dimensions. Conclusions: This study formulates a language around food parenting practices specific to child snacking, identifies dominant constructs, and proposes a conceptual framework to guide future research.

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