Parental 'feeding styles' reflect children's genes

November 20, 2018, King's College London
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

New research from King's College London and UCL challenges the idea that a child's weight largely reflects the way their parents feed them. Instead, parents appear to adopt feeding styles in response to their children's natural body weight, which is largely genetically influenced.

With at critical levels, researchers are looking for environmental factors which could explain why more children are developing overweight. The way a parent feeds their is thought to be a powerful shaper of their children's eating behaviour: rigid restriction is thought to cause because children overeat when the restriction is no longer in place (called the 'forbidden fruit' effect); while pressuring a child to finish everything on the plate is thought to provoke anxiety in children with low appetites and compromise weight gain.

In a study published in PLOS Genetics, the researchers looked at the relationship between a child's genetic predisposition towards a higher or lower weight and their parent's feeding practices. It is well established that body weight has a strong genetic basis, with up to 80% of differences between people accounted for by genetic factors.

Lead author, Saskia Selzam from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, says: "We found that whose children were genetically predisposed to have a lower weight were more pressuring of them to eat, and those parents whose children were genetically predisposed to have a higher weight were more restrictive over how much and what they were allowed to eat."

"Our findings suggest that parents develop their feeding practices in response to their child's natural tendency towards a higher or lower weight. The way a parent feeds their child may also influence their child's weight to some extent, but our results challenge the prevailing view that parental behaviour is the major influence on childhood weight."

The study included data from around 4,500 who were born in England and Wales between 1994-1996 from the Twins Early Development Study, which is funded by the Medical Research Council.

By comparing twin pairs, the researchers found that many of the genes that influence individual differences in children's weight also influence parental feeding behaviour, so that genes linked to higher weight were linked to restrictive feeding practices while genes linked to lower weight were linked to pressuring feeding practices.

Individual genetic scores were also calculated which reflected each child's predisposition to be of a higher or lower weight based on DNA differences linked to body weight. These 'polygenic' scores were associated with parental feeding style and the association remained unchanged after accounting for genetic and environmental factors that are shared within a family.

Even within families where non-identical twins differed in their genetic predisposition, parents were more restrictive with the twin who had a tendency to be of a higher weight and were more pressuring of the twin who had a tendency to be of a lower weight.

Senior author, Dr. Clare Llewellyn from UCL, says: "These results show that parents are not the 'full story' when it comes to a child's weight, and blaming parents for being too controlling about feeding may be unfair. But it is unclear whether these natural 'go to' strategies are helpful, harmful, or of no consequence to a child's weight in the long run."

"Large-scale randomised controlled trials which follow from early life to later childhood are needed to test if a parent's feeding practices can influence their child's eating behaviour and ."

Explore further: 'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

More information: PLOS Genetics (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007757

Related Stories

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

Does a parent's perception of their child's weight impact on child weight gain?

April 21, 2016
Researchers from the University of Liverpool and Florida State University College of Medicine have conducted a study on the effect the misperception of a child's weight by their parents can have on a child's actual weight.

Does a woman's weight gain during pregnancy affect children's bone health?

November 7, 2018
A new study has examined whether managing weight during pregnancy might affect children's bone mass.

Stress over fussy eating prompts parents to pressure or reward at mealtime

September 17, 2018
Although fussy eating is developmentally normal and transient phase for most children, the behavior can be stressful for parents. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that concern ...

Overweight mothers underestimate their children's weight

March 1, 2017
Mothers who are overweight or obese tend to underestimate the weights of their obese children, according to a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Children gain more weight when parents see them as 'overweight'

January 13, 2017
Children whose parents considered them to be 'overweight' tended to gain more weight over the following decade compared with children whose parents thought they were a 'normal' weight, according to analyses of data from two ...

Recommended for you

Scientists cut main heart disease risk locus out of DNA by genome editing

December 6, 2018
Over the past decade we've learned that billions of people carry a mysterious specter in their DNA that strongly increases their risk for life threatening cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, aneurysms or strokes, ...

What can a snowflake teach us about how cancer spreads in the body?

December 6, 2018
What can seashells, lightning and the coastline of Britain teach us about new drugs for cancer?

New genetic insight could help treat rare debilitating heart and lung condition

December 6, 2018
The largest study of genetic variation in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension has associated two important genes with the disease.

Are scientists studying the wrong kind of mice?

December 5, 2018
Mice represent well over half of the non-human subjects of biomedical research, and the vast majority of those mice are inbred. Formed by generation after generation of mating between brothers and sisters, inbred mice are ...

Researchers find evidence of prenatal environment tuning genomic imprinting

December 5, 2018
A team of researchers from the U.S., Australia and Denmark has found evidence of the prenatal environment tuning genomic imprinting. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes ...

Gene that lets you eat as much as you want holds promise against obesity

December 4, 2018
It sounds too good to be true, but a novel approach that might allow you to eat as much food as you want without gaining weight could be a reality in the near future.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.