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Risks for Childhood Obesity II: Parenting and Self-Regulation in Early Childhood

Headshot of Cynthia Stifter

PI: Cynthia A. Stifter

NIDDK R01DK081512
Administered in: Health and Human Development


Obesity in childhood has been increasing at an alarming rate. For children ages 2-5 years, the prevalence of overweight children has almost tripled over the last three decades. Obesity is a multifactorial condition with varying causes including genetic, social, cultural, and behavioral factors, all of which may interact. The aims of the present study are to examine a number of these factors and their role in childhood obesity. The study is a follow-up of an infant sample seen at 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age when temperamental reactivity and parent use of food to soothe was assessed. Currently, we are investigating a core developmental construct, self- regulation, which demonstrates rapid growth during the preschool years. As young children develop the ability to regulate their behavior, parents begin to socialize children to rules and standards of behaving. In some instances, parents may turn to instrumental feeding, or the use of food to control or reward behavior. The health outcomes of this feeding practice are expected to be influenced by the child's temperamental style and/or their self-regulatory ability. The hypotheses of the study are guided by the central principle that temperament is linked to health and adjustment either indirectly by evoking parenting responses or through interactions with parenting behaviors that may either buffer the negative effects or increase the risk for poor outcome. Child temperamental reactivity, self-regulation and parenting are being assessed throughout the preschool years of life using multiple methods including laboratory visits, parent reports, and objective measurements. Childhood BMI and weight change are the proposed outcomes. By identifying modifiable factors present early in a child's life more successful preventions aimed at reducing childhood and adult obesity may be developed.

Graduate Student

  • Penina Backer