Moms and Childhood Obesity — the Inescapable Link


Sorry, moms of the world, but once again it all comes down to you. Or perhaps that should be, it all comes down on you — the blame or, as professionals call it, the responsibility. Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at a study showing how detrimental it can be for mothers to feed their babies in front of the television. But the potential for problems doesn’t stop there. What about when they get a little older? There are still many things a mother can do wrong.

Washington State University biology major (and fitness instructor) Halley Morrison wrote her honors graduate thesis on a subject so compelling that the work was published in the journal Appetite. As her topic, Morrison chose the eating habits and mealtime behavior of mothers, and how preschool-age children are influenced by those habits and behaviors.

Baby creatures learn by watching and imitating their elders, there is no doubt. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is a saying so old nobody knows where it started. It has been scientifically verified by research, but it has also been common-sense folk wisdom forever.

Still, people seem to need to be reminded about this aspect of survival. Adults can deny it all they want, but everybody knows it deep down. Everything your child sees you do leaves an imprint. On the most primitive and subconscious level, a baby looks at a grownup and understands, “That’s what I’m supposed to do, too, as soon as I can manage it.”

Morrison worked under the guidance of department chair Tom Power, whose field is childhood obesity prevention. The report says:

Together, they analyzed surveys of 222 low-income African-American and Latino Head Start preschoolers and caregivers… Morrison found that moms who eat when they are already full and also show a high level of control when feeding their kids — for example, by pushing children to finish what’s on their plate or withholding food until the next meal — tend to produce picky eaters. Meanwhile, moms who eat in response to their emotions or who are easily tempted by the sight, scent or taste of food had children with a strong desire to eat.

Power stresses the importance of trusting a preschool child’s instincts. If a child doesn’t eat everything on the plate, don’t make an issue out of it. At that age, they don’t like to load up, but tend to want something to eat every two or three hours. A parent can take advantage of this. When the kid is hungry again, if the only available snack is a healthful one, there’s no problem.

Of course, that can be taken too far, too. Power counsels against turning sweets or other undesirable snacks into forbidden fruits in such a strict way that kids can’t wait to sneak them. Even when young people go away to college, the legendary “freshman 15” weight gain doesn’t result only from the opportunity to drink lots of beer. Kids are also escaping diet-police parents.

Corporate attorney and expert negotiator Michael Friedlander has extensively studied leaders and leadership. He defines moral authority as teaching by example. There is no other way to get it. Violence can coerce people into unwilling compliance, but the recognition of authentic moral authority attracts people to follow willingly. Parents who coast along on a “Do as I say, not as I do” principle are destined to fail, and deservedly so. Parents really do need to practice what they preach, or their kids will call them hypocrites or worse.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New insight on relationship between parents, preschoolers and obesity,”, 02/08/13
Source: “Michael Friedlander,”
Image by Maryland GovPics.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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