Consumption of fruit, vegetables, sweets and soft drinks are associated with psychological dimensions of eating behaviour in parents and their 12-year-old children

Kristina Elfhag, Sanna Tholin, Finn Rasmussen
Public Health Nutrition 2008, 11 (9): 914-23

OBJECTIVE: We investigated associations between consumption of fruits, vegetables, sweets and soft drinks and the psychological dimensions of eating in parents and their children. The role of the parent's characteristics for their children's food intake was also explored.

DESIGN: Food intake patterns were assessed by self-reported consumption of the respective foods. Eating behaviour was measured by the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire and self-esteem by Harter self-perception scale. The participants were 1441 families (mother, father and their 12-year-old child), and additionally 354 mothers and thirty fathers.

RESULTS: Among parents, reported intake of fruit and vegetables were associated with restrained eating, higher self-esteem, and higher education and age. Intake of sweets was related to more external and less restrained eating, and for mothers also emotional eating. Parent's intake of soft drink was foremost related to a younger age, and also weakly associated with psychological characteristics. The food intake of parents was more important for the children's food intake than any other characteristics. However, children's intake of sweets showed clear-cut positive associations with external eating.

CONCLUSIONS: Psychological dimensions of eating behaviour are associated with patterns of food intake, in particular for consumption of sweets, and are most prominent in the parents. The children's food intake mirrored their parents' intake. Being sensitive to external food cues may increase unhealthy food consumption in our society, whereas more restrained eating may indicate proneness or intention to healthier food choices among parents. Emotional eating may imply a proneness to consume sweets for comfort, in particular among mothers.

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