Up to 66 percent of parents demand that their teenagers clean their plate–even if their kids are overweight or obese, according to a new study published in Pediatrics.
The researchers also found that it’s extremely common for parents to try to control how much their kids eat, with some parents pressuring adolescents to eat more and others pressuring them to eat less. Both patterns can adversely affect kids’ weight, the study reported.
And while you might think that moms are the main culprits, the researchers report that dads are actually more likely to act as the food police. Many of the fathers in the study even pressured their children to continue eating after the kids said they were full–a tactic that could be fueling the childhood obesity epidemic.
“I was surprised at some of the parent behaviors, like feeling that their children should clean their plates and not waste food,” study author Katie Loth, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis told HealthDay.
“In the 1950s, cleaning your plate meant something different,” adds Loth. “Portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, and if you encourage kids to rely on environmental indicators, like how much food is on their plates or the time of day, they’ll lose the ability to rely on internal cues to know whether they’re hungry or full.”
Restricting food can backfire as well. For example, many of the parents in the study felt that if they rigorously monitor and limit what their kids ate, the kids would pack on pounds by gorging on candy and junk food. Not surprisingly, parents who practiced restrictive food behaviors typically had overweight or obese children, the researchers report.
Overall, the study found that many more dads than moms pushed their kids to clean their plate–and that boys are more likely than girls to be the target of this type of food policing. The research adds to earlier studies showing that very often, dads have a bigger influence–whether positive or negative–on children’s eating habits than moms do.
The study shows that trying to control every bite your child eats does more harm than good. In the Amen household, we avoid food policing. Instead, we make it easy for our daughter, Chloe, to choose the foods that are best for her body and brain.
Here are some simple, effective ways to encourage your children to eat healthy, without becoming the food police:
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