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Depressive Symptoms and Perceptions of Child Difficulty Are Associated with Less Responsive Feeding Behaviors in an Observational Study of Low-Income Mothers

Elias, Cindy V., Power, Thomas G., Beck, Ashley E., Goodell, L. Suzanne, Johnson, Susan L., Papaioannou, Maria A., Hughes, Sheryl O.
Childhood obesity 2016 v.12 no.6 pp. 418-425
Hispanics, childhood, childhood obesity, children, dinner, feeding behavior, mental depression, mothers, observational studies, questionnaires, researchers, risk
Background: Maternal depressive symptoms and perceptions of child difficulty are associated with negative effects on general development and cognitive functioning in children. The study examined associations between maternal depressive symptoms, perceptions of child difficulty, and maternal feeding behaviors in a population at elevated risk for childhood obesity.Methods: Participants were 138 low-income black and Hispanic mothers and their children (ages 3–5) participating in an observational study of mealtimes among Head Start families. Three dinnertime observations were conducted over 2 weeks on each family and audio/videotaped for coding. Coding included eating influence attempts and other food- and nonfood-related interactions exhibited by the mother during dinner. Mothers completed questionnaires on depressive symptoms and perceptions of child difficulty. Linear regressions were conducted, examining associations between maternal depressive symptoms, perceptions of child difficulty, and coded parent feeding behaviors.Results: Mothers reporting higher levels of depressive symptoms used more verbal pressure to get their child to eat during meals, were more likely to discourage child independence, and less likely to enforce table manners. Mothers reporting higher perceptions of child difficulty were less likely to have nonfood-related discussions during meals and to try to get the child to eat a different food.Conclusions: This study is one of the first to investigate associations between maternal depression, perceptions of child difficulty, and mother's feeding behaviors during meals using observational methodology. These results may help researchers identify specific parental characteristics and feeding practices on which to intervene when developing tailored intervention programs for reducing childhood obesity.