The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) researchers are teaming up on a four-year, $2.6 million NIH study to better understand how parent-child interactions at mealtimes can affect children’s obesity risk. It is hoped the research will provide more effective childhood obesity prevention strategies, which can also promote young children’s social-emotional development.
“Obesity prevention efforts are increasingly focused on early childhood,” said Sarah Anderson, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State’s College of Public Health. “Emerging evidence suggests that the emotional quality of interactions between parents and children impacts risk for obesity, and self-regulation may be an explanatory mechanism. However, parent-child interactions are traditionally observed during play, and mealtime interactions have not been studied over time in relationship to children’s obesity risk.”
Anderson and Ohio State are partnering with the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) to conduct a new longitudinal study to determine how the quality of parent-child interactions observed in mealtime and play settings in the home and laboratory impacts changes in weight and body fat through preschool-age, and to identify the aspects of self-regulation that are involved.
“Strategies to prevent obesity in young children are urgently needed and parent engagement will be crucial,” said Anderson. “Studying the dynamics of parent-child mealtime interaction across the toddler to preschool period will facilitate identification of modifiable targets for obesity prevention.”
In the study, families will be eligible to participate in four study visits (home and ‘lab’) as their child develops from a toddler to a preschool-aged child. 250 children will be enrolled at 18 months and assessed at 24, 36, and 42 months of age at NCH and in their homes. Parent-child interaction during play and during mealtimes at home and in a standardized buffet lunch in the laboratory will be observed and objectively coded. Self-regulation at preschool-age will be assessed using a battery of objective tasks and parent-report.
"Strategies to prevent obesity in young children are urgently needed and parent engagement will be crucial."
According to Anderson, expected outcomes of the research will be a detailed understanding of the aspects of self-regulation and parent-child mealtime interactions that are associated with risk for obesity in early childhood. The project is innovative in that it will use objective coding of observed parent-child interactions in mealtime and non-mealtime contexts over time and with children of all gestational ages.
Sarah Keim, PhD, principal investigator with the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH), is serving as a co-investigator on the study.
“This work would not be possible without the strong partnership with Sarah Keim and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her research support and data collection, and recruitment of families for the study is critical,” said Anderson.
Rebecca Andridge, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics, OSU College of Public Health, and Bharathi Zvara, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, are also serving as co-investigators on the study.