Childhood obesity numbers have prompted researchers to look at the effect of parental control on children's eating behaviors. Parents who are concerned about their child's weight may use controlling or restrictive feeding practices in an effort to help limit their child's intake. This restriction tends to therefore backfire as children of restrictive parents are associated with having higher caloric intake and a greater likelihood to eat when they are not hungry. The real issue is that if Mom or Dad does all the work in feeding practices- chooses foods, portions sizes, when, where, etc., then they may undermine the child's development of self-regulatory competence. If controlling habits diminish self-regulatory ability, then of course the likelihood of overeating, obesity, etc. are much higher.

However, recent research has shown a positive impact of Moms exerting some level of control on their child's feeding practices. Findings include kids eating more fruits and veggies, fewer snack foods, and most recently the decreased chance of dieting at an early age.

A research study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association observed whether controlling maternal feeding practices in third grade were associated with increased or decreased dieting behaviors in the child by 6thgrade. In sixth grade 41.5 percent of the nearly 800 students observed engaged in dieting behavior. Of these children, 57.8 percent had mothers reporting virtually no control over their child's intake in the third grade while only 36.2 percent of children with mothers reporting a high level of control were dieting. In other words, greater maternal control predicted lower odds of a child dieting in sixth grade.

The distinguishing characteristic seems to be the type of control- rather than restrictive control, a so-called "covert control" seems to work best. Examples of "covert control" include:

- limiting fast food trips

- keeping junk food out of the house

- strongly encouraging fruits and vegetables at meal and snack times

- establishing an understanding for "sometimes" foods

- serving salad for dinner

This form of control is associated with a lower risk of obesity in children. In other words, how you exert control may either be harmful or protective. A mother or father who sets limits and does not allow the child to eat whatever he or she wants acts as a guideline for the child to determine what he or she should eat in other settings. Rather than controling, be reactive; the best case scenario is for the so called covert control to be proactive- providing a structured framework within which the child learns healthy habits to guide daily feeding practice (when to eat, how much to eat, which foods to eat.)

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.Skinnyandthecity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.

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