Let’s Be Conscious of What We Teach

In the heyday of print magazines, one of the most often-seen cartoon cliches was the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who would dump a heap of dirt on the carpet and then show the housewife how efficiently his machine cleaned it up. Demonstration is the key to sales, and when it comes to parents training kids how to eat like sensible beings, it is also the key to behavior.

Tiny children do what they are shown, so it had better be good, and the earlier this process starts, the better it works. One YouTube video features a little child copying Daddy as he makes an audible sound of appreciation (well to be honest, it’s a grunt) with every bite. Cute, but for other people in the vicinity it probably gets old pretty fast.

In this clip, a mom shows how to bite an apple, which the baby gamely attempts to imitate — turning away with each bite to hide her embarrassing lack of teeth. This one isn’t about eating, but it makes the point. Little kids are in “monkey-see, monkey-do” mode, and we ignore this at our peril.

Whether parents know it or not, and whether they like it or not, they set an example every minute of every day. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a concept that Childhood Obesity News has been exploring.

Predictors of consumption

A few years back, a number of institutions collaborated on a study of portion sizes that parents serve to themselves and to their children. Needless to say, due to the imitation factor, this also influences the amounts that children help themselves to when they are old enough to manage it. Considering that the report centers on the simple action of moving edible substances from one dish to another, its length and detail are rather imposing.

This quoted paragraph encompasses only a few of the many factors that may be in play:

The amounts offered to children at meals related significantly to the amounts that parents served themselves, which suggests that adults may not consciously focus on offering children “child-sized” portions, may have different conceptions of what constitutes being “child-sized” (i.e., slightly less than they serve themselves), or may have other motivations when serving children’s plates.

In efforts to be efficient, parents may place larger portions on children’s plates to reduce time and effort spent on child feeding and mealtimes. Alternatively, parents may be invested in getting their children to eat more and may decide to actively provide more in attempts to have their children be “good eaters.”

The report goes into depth about cultural differences, parents’ employment status, and several other factors that can influence how much food a parent dishes out. But the main point is this: “Efforts aimed at improving parents’ recognition of developmentally appropriate portions for young children could be useful for future obesity-prevention efforts.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Portion sizes for children are predicted by parental characteristics and the amounts parents serve themselves,” Nutrition.org, 01/29/14
Image by Pat Hartman

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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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