There may be no connection between strict control of children's diet during childhood and weight gain in later years, a study has revealed.
The study suggests that such behaviour may be a response to concerns over a child's increasing weight.
"Our findings suggest that controlling maternal feeding practices probably do not cause increased weight gain, as some previous studies have proposed. In fact, some degree of control may actually be beneficial in helping certain children maintain their weight," said lead author Dr. Kyung E. Rhee, a researcher with the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital.
Many studies have linked controlling or restrictive feeding practices with disinhibited child eating, increased caloric intake and excessive weight gain.
This prompted many experts to recommend that parents avoid these overly restrictive behaviours when helping children control their weight.
However, in the latest study, the researchers have found that the relationship between controlling feeding practices and child weight has been inconsistent and has not conclusively determined whether these practices cause, or are a consequence of, weight gain.
The researchers examined the data of 789 children (equal number of boys and girls), who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
Child heights and weights were obtained at ages 4, 7 and 9 and changes in body mass index (BMI) were measured between 4-7 years and 7-9 years.
The researchers also measured maternal feeding practices at each age interval by asking mothers the question: "Do you let your child eat what he/she feels like eating?"
It was found that in boys, increases in restrictive feeding practices between the ages of 4 and 7 were linked with a decreased risk of increased BMI by the time the boys were 7-9 years old.
However, when it came to girls, mothers seemed to increase their control when they thought that their daughters had gained significant amounts of weight between the ages of 4 and 7.
"Our findings mirror those of other studies that have found that parents are much less likely to recognize or be concerned about the overweight status of sons compared to daughters. These behaviours may represent a sensitivity to societal values that girls should be slim while boys have a physical or social advantage in being larger," said Rhee.
Thus, the researchers have said that restrictive feeding practices may actually be necessary for some children to help regulate their food intake, promote healthier eating habits and limit excessive weight gain.
The study has been published online in the journal Obesity.