Is a Mother’s Hunger Linked to an Overweight Child?

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Guest article by Sam Hadadi,

Does a Hungry Mum Make for an Overweight Child?

As parents, we’ve all had days where we’re so fraught and frazzled that you and your health can be the very last thing on your mind.

Of course, on those frantic, hectic days, most of you will gawp and laugh at the idea of sitting down to enjoy a meal in peace (parents become masters at eating food while standing!) and sometimes you’ll be so busy rushing around, that you can forget to eat in the first place.

However, hopefully this article will make you stop and think: you need to look after you, and not just for the obvious reasons.

You see, a new study has just revealed that the hungrier parents are at mealtimes, the more they can feed (or should we say overfeed) their little ones. Of course, this has very real implications for childhood obesity, which is becoming an ever-growing problem.

Worryingly, in 2014, close to 35 per cent of children aged 10 and 11 in the UK were found to be overweight or obese1. And, actually, obesity is a huge problem in younger children too – almost 22 per cent of reception aged children (that’s four and five) now have a weight problem.

The Study

So, what can we learn from the study? Well, it was admittedly a fairly small pilot study of 29 children aged three to six and their mothers, carried out by researchers at the University of Florida.

During the study, researchers asked mother-child pairs to take part in a study of their interactions during play time and a meal. After 10 minutes of a play at a special lab, mums filled in a questionnaire which asked them to rate both her and her child’s hunger on a seven-point scale. Researchers also collected participants’ height and weight.

Chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate chip cookies

Next, researchers brought in trays of food and drinks and asked the mums to dish up for both themselves and their children. The options included baby carrots, apple slices, cheese slices, crackers, cookies, mac and cheese, vegetable lasagna, chicken nuggets, water, milk and apple juice.

Mothers were then asked to rate their hunger, as well as their child’s, before sitting down to tuck into the meal.

So, what else did they find? Well, if the woman was overweight or obese and feeling hungry, scientists found that they believed their children to be hungrier, too. As a result, they dished up larger portions of food to their kids.

Researchers also discovered that, regardless of a mother’s weight or perceptions of hunger, most of them served their children mammoth portions, all of which were above the recommended daily allowances.

To put this into perspective, mums served their children an average of 573 calories. The suggested daily intake for children aged three to six is 1,000 to 1,400 calories, meaning that (in an ideal world, at least) one meal should not exceed 400 calories.

Of course, because of the sample size, we may want to take all of this with a pinch of salt and even the researchers are the first to admit that more needs to be done. Yet, it’s intriguing to say the least: could our own hunger levels really affect our kids’ waistlines?

In fact, our own body could be affecting our children a lot more than we may realise. As the researchers pointed out, previous studies have shown that parents with depression and anxiety may be more likely to believe that their children are experiencing the same feelings.

What Does This Mean?

Yet, is this really that important, you may think? Can’t kids just say no, or stop eating when they’ve had enough? Well, it’s not always that simple…

As lead investigator, Sarah Stromberg, says: “Because young children have difficulty recognising when they are full, the more food they are presented at mealtime, the more they are likely to eat.”

The researchers now want to go on to use these results to “help parents develop more appropriate portion sizes for younger kids, which hopefully can lead to a longer life of healthy eating habits.”

They’ve recommended that future research should be conducted with lots more people, tracking the calories consumed by children throughout the day and not just at one meal. They also want to try to observe parents and children in a home environment eating the foods they normally serve, rather than the free, buffet-style meal offered by the researchers.

What Can You Do to Help?

All of this research is great but how can you actually apply it to you and your family? Here are a few of our favourite Lucy Bee tips to get you on the right track:

If in Doubt, Ask:

Most of us would likely have a foggy, glazed look on our faces if we were asked how much our kids should be eating. In fact, parents of fussy eaters are usually grateful that they eat anything at all! However, if you are wondering how much your kid should be eating, then it’s worth having a chat with your health visitor or doctor, who should be able to offer guidance.

Eat as a Family:

Family Eating
Family eating

Not only can sitting down to eat as a family be good for the soul but it also encourages positive eating habits for little ones, too. As if that weren’t enough to persuade you to sit down together, a study back in 2000 revealed that kids who eat with their parents are more likely to load up on veggies, while further studies show that they’re also more likely to try new foods2, feel happier and even become smarter3!

On the flipside, distracted dining4 can put your children at risk of obesity and increase their consumption of unhealthy foods, too.

Schedule in Time for You:

If being hungry enough to eat your own arm really can make you feed up your child, then it’s crucial to make time for you.

Try to make sure you eat three healthy meals a day and make a date with yourself to enjoy some snacks, too. Not got time? Fret not! We have lots of recipes on our website5 for the perfect, nourishing snacks to eat when you’re on the go.

Ditch Processed Foods:

We know, we know, we say this all the time – but ditch those processed, shop-bought foods and switch to nature’s goodness instead!

Bringing kids up to enjoy good, honest, home-cooked food will teach them healthy habits for life and will also send your food bills plummeting too. Some of our favourite family recipes include:

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chip Supper, Lucy Bee style

Chunky Tuna patties

Chunky Tuna Patties

Choc cookies ingredients

Chocolate Cookies for the Whole Family

Chicken skewers

Chicken Skewers With Chilli and Honey

butternut-squash-risotto-2_22761821192_o

Butternut Squash Risotto With Sage

Further Reading

If you’re looking to keep your family healthy and happy, then we have plenty of inspiration to hand on our website. Here are just a few of our articles which will help your kids to eat well, and thrive:

energy-bites-

Healthy Snacking for the Whole Family

juicing

Healthy Family Eating

Halloween Broccoli

Ideas for Healthy Ways to Feed a Young Family

Sam Hadadi Signature

  1. Obesity in children
  2. Exposure to different and new foods
  3. Eating as a family
  4. Distracted dining
  5. Lucy Bee recipes

About Lucy Bee Limited

Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.

The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food. Sam is co-founder of a great blog, www.iamintothis.com.