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Parents’ feeding styles reflect their children’s genes

In one of our latest projects, we challenged the idea that a child’s weight largely reflects the way their parents feed them. How parents feed their child is thought to be a powerful shaper of their children’s eating behaviour: rigid restriction is thought to cause weight gain because children overeat when the restriction is no longer in place; while pressuring a child to finish everything on the plate is thought to provoke anxiety in children with low appetites and compromise weight gain.

Instead, we found that at age 10, parents appear to adopt feeding practices in response to their children’s natural body weight, which is largely genetically influenced. Using genetic scores based on thousands of genetic markers, we found that parents whose children were genetically predisposed to have a lower weight were more pressuring of them to eat, and those parents whose children were genetically predisposed to have a higher weight were more restrictive over how much and what they were allowed to eat. Even within families where non-identical twins differed in their genetic predisposition, parents were more restrictive with the twin who had a tendency to be of a higher weight and were more pressuring of the twin who had a tendency to be of a lower weight. While this suggests parents’ feeding practices are influenced by their child’s genetics, it does not mean parental behaviour is completely driven by their child’s weight. However, these results show that parents are not the ‘full story’ when it comes to a child’s weight, and blaming parents for being too controlling about feeding may be unfair.

To read the full article, click here: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1007757

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