-Written by Erica Robinson, NC A&T SU ‘19
A child’s beliefs are formed by three influences: society, peers, and parents. The biggest contributors to a child’s transition into adolescence and then into adulthood are societal pressures along with approval of their peers. However, one of the subtlest but most significant behaviors developed based mainly on their parents’ influence is the child’s beliefs around food. A study analyzed the difference between modeling and control theories of parental influence on children’s eating attitudes and behavior with a focus on snack foods (Brown & Ogden 2004).
The most common way children learn is through modeling or observational learning, which is described by Albert Bandura (1977) as the process of behavior learned from the environment. During this process, a child observes an influential model and then imitates their behavior (McLeod, 2011). Researchers have analyzed the direct connection between children’s eating behaviors and parental modeling. Studies also report children not only model their parents’ food, but also their attitudes to food and body dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, parental control plays a major role in children’s eating behaviors. Parents indirectly control a child’s diet based on the food purchased. However, parents can directly affect a child’s diet by restricting or forbidding certain food. In addition, parental control theories can be applied to control the child’s behavior in general with the use of food. For instance, a parent may reward their child with a snack for having good behavior at school. Another example is a parent distracting a child with a snack for the parent to continue their pervious task. This method may be used to control the children’s behavior, but is intended to establish “good” food preferences such as vegetables but it often result in the children requesting the restricted snack food (Birch, 1999).
Previously, these two theories have been analyzed separately; however, this study compares the two theories to investigate the correlation between parents’ and children’s eating behavior. Researchers focused on children’s snack intake since it is often eaten in between meals and is a significant time to measure parent and child interactions. To conduct this study, researchers designed a take-home questionnaire for willing participants. Participants were 112 pairs of parents and children age range between 9 and 13. The questionnaire was designed to be understandable for both the parent and child. The study analyzed participants’ motivation to eat, body dissatisfaction, snack intake, and lastly parental control over both the child’s diet and behavior.
Results indicated the type of diet showed by parents was associated with a similar diet in the children. As expected, modeling had a clear influence on how children thought and behaved around food. Interestingly, parental control over diet influenced children’s food intake but not their behavior in general. Subsequently, parents were advised to adapt healthier snacking behaviors to improve their children’s snacking behaviors.
In conclusion, this study emphasizes the importance of healthy eating among parents since their diets directly influence their children’s diets. Although this study is more than a decade old, it still advances the discussion about the effects of parental influences on children’s eating behaviors and attitude.
Brown, R., & Ogden, J. (2004). Children’s eating attitudes and behaviour: a study of the modelling and control theories of parental influence. Health education research, 19(3), 261-271.
McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Birch, L. L. (1999). Development of food preferences. Annual review of nutrition, 19(1), 41-62.