Parental feeding behaviors have been found to be associated with dietary intakes and weight status in children, although the effects of early parental feeding behaviors on children’s later diet remain poorly understood.
Among 1253 mother-child pairs from Project Viva, we examined associations of parental feeding behaviors at 1 year assessed with questions from the Child Feeding Questionnaire (yes vs. no) with dietary intakes in early (mean: 3.2, SD 0.3 years; n=1167) and mid-childhood (mean: 7.8, SD 0.8 years; n=1046) assessed via food frequency questionnaires. We used linear regression models adjusted for socio-demographic characteristics, maternal and paternal body mass index, and maternal diet quality in pregnancy.
When their child was 1-year-old, 34% of parents pressured/encouraged their child to eat more, 13% restricted their intakes, and 8% did not persist in offering foods disliked. Parental pressure to eat at 1 year was associated with higher child intake of snack and baked foods (β 0.18 servings/day; 95% CI 0.06, 0.29) and percentage of energy from total fat (0.64 %; 0.00, 1.27) in early childhood; no associations were found in mid-childhood. Parental feeding restriction at 1 year was associated with lower percentage of energy from saturated fat in early childhood (-0.58 %; -1.10, -0.07); no associations were found in mid-childhood. Parents not persisting to offer foods disliked by infants at 1 year was associated with lower intake of processed meat (-0.06 servings/day; -0.11, -0.01) and low-fat dairy (-0.23 servings/day; -0.45, -0.01) in mid-childhood.
Early parental feeding behaviors have a modest contribution to dietary intakes throughout childhood; only a few associations persisted after adjusting for socio-economic and parental characteristics. Strategies to improve diet in children might need to focus on the broader family and socio-economic context.