A study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and University of Oslo found that mothers with negative thoughts and feelings are more likely to give their children unhealthy food to eat. Sounds obvious, but this was the first study to compare a child’s diet with psychological and sociodemographic factors in the mother, and could lead to better counseling by health professionals and nutritionists.

The study looked at over 27,000 mothers and their 18 month old children, and linked mothers who were emotionally unstable, anxious, angry, sad, had poor self-confidence or a negative view of the world with the propensity to give their child sweet and fatty foods. According to the authors, by 18 months of age, a child can learn to prefer sweet and fatty foods over healthy food choices.

“I think that mothers compensate for [negative emotions] either by trying to force healthy food into their child or hold the sweet-bag strings extra tightly. Paradoxically, they try to balance poor control by actually using more control. With force and restrictions they increase desire which quickly results in resistance in the form of tantrums which these mothers are also bad at resisting. Also, earlier studies have shown that controlling behavior among parents is linked with a more sugar-rich diet among children.” – Eivind Ystrøm, NIPH psychologist

The study did not examine the role of fathers in a child’s eating habits, but the authors of the study said “it is likely that this also applies to them. Men with a lot of negative affectivity often express this in the form of anxiety or anger, but otherwise the characteristics are identical between the sexes.”

NIPH’s study was also the first time that nutritional patterns in such young children were studied, and the results pointed to the ability of the parent’s emotions and stress adaptation to affect a child’s eating habit from early on in life. Another of Ystrøm’s earlier studies found that mothers with a high level of negative emotions often cease breastfeeding before six months.

The study was published in Maternal & Child Nutrition – Ystrøm E, Niegel S, Vollrath ME. “The impact of maternal negative affectivity on dietary patterns of 18-month-old children in the Norwegian mother and child cohort study”

Image: space.Boy at Flickr under CC License

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