Parents are often blamed if their kids are overweight, but a new study suggests this may be an unfair assumption.
Researchers at King’s College London and University College London found that mums and dads adapt their feeding styles in line with a child’s genetic predisposition towards a higher or lower weight.
Scientists looked at links between the two and found parents whose kids were genetically predisposed to have a lower weight were more pressuring of them to eat. Parents with children predisposed to a higher weight were more restrictive over how much and what they were allowed to eat.
The study, published in the PLOS Genetics journal, concluded that parents are not dictating children’s eating habits, but responding to their child’s emerging characteristics.
“Our findings suggest that parents develop their feeding practices in response to their child’s natural tendency towards a higher or lower weight,” said Saskia Selzam, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
The researchers used data from the Twins Early Development Study from 1994 to 1996, with around 4,500 pairs of twins born in England and Wales. They also used answers collated from a Child Feeding Questionnaire. With these children, they calculated a genetic score which set out the likelihood of these children to have a higher or lower body mass index (BMI).
Then they matched the score against the feeding reports from parents – whether the parents used restriction (thought to lead to weight gain because children overeat when the restriction is not there) or pressure (thought to make children with low appetites anxious, and compromise weight gain).
Children with a higher BMI score had higher reported rates of parental restriction and those with lower BMIs had higher rates of pressuring.
Senior author Dr Clare Llewellyn from University College London said the results show that parents are not the “full story” when it comes to a child’s weight, and therefore blaming parents for being too controlling about feeding may be unfair.