Parental feeding behaviours and motivations. A qualitative study in mothers of UK pre-schoolers

S. Carnell, L. Cooke, R. Cheng, A. Robbins, J. Wardle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parental feeding behaviours are considered major influences on children's eating behaviour. However, many questionnaire studies of feeding neglect subtle distinctions between specific feeding strategies and practices in favour of eliciting general feeding goals, and do not take account of the context provided by parents' motivations. These factors may be critical to understanding child outcomes and engaging parents in child obesity prevention. The present study obtained interview and diary data on specific feeding behaviours and underlying motivations from 22 mothers of predominantly healthy weight 3-5 y olds in the UK. Parents described a wide range of efforts to promote or restrict intake that were largely motivated by practical and health considerations and only rarely by concern about weight. There was also evidence for instrumental feeding, rules surrounding meal-time, child involvement, and parental flexibility in relation to feeding. Almost all parents described responding to children's appetitive traits, consistent with growing evidence for genetically influenced individual differences in children's appetite. These findings suggest that in order to engage parents of currently healthy weight children, obesity prevention advice should aim to satisfy their primary motivations (practicality, health), and be framed as helping parents to respond sensitively and appropriately to different children's characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-673
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Child eating behaviour
  • Child obesity
  • Child-responsive feeding
  • Healthy eating
  • Instrumental feeding
  • Parental feeding style
  • Parenting style
  • Pressure to eat
  • Restriction
  • Weight concern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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