Does The Way You Soothe Your Child Encourage Obesity?

When your child is fussy, there are many ways to soothe her but according researchers at the University of North Carolina, the method that you choose to do so, as well as your weight, could drastically affect her future wellbeing. TV is the common method of choice by mothers, especially those who are obese, but this may help explain the escalating rate of childhood obesity and inactivity, and lead to behavioural and educational strategies that may help mothers combat these effects.


Margaret E. Bentley, a professor of nutrition in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, led the study, and is the first to examine the interplay of maternal and infant risk factors that lead to TV watching in infants. Her team examined data from 217 first-time, low-income black mothers and babies from central North Carolina who were part of a five-year study looking at obesity risk in infants. At 3, 6, 9 12 and 18 months of the baby’s age, the team explored data of TV exposure, infant temperament and sociodemographic data, asking about how often the TV was on, if a TV was in the baby’s bedroom, whether the TV was on during meal times and how mothers perceived their children’s mood, activity levels and fussiness.


According to Amanda L. Thompson, a biological anthropologist in the College of Arts and Sciences and first author of the study, ‘In the past, studies have focused on maternal factors for obesity and TV watching, but this is the first time anyone has looked at infant factors and the interaction between maternal and infant characteristics in shaping TV behaviour across infancy’. Thompson said this was important ‘because mum and infant behaviours are inextricably linked.’


The results showed that the most likely people to put their infants in front of the TV were mothers who watched a lot of TV themselves, were obese, and whose child was fussy. At 1 year old, almost 40% of the infants in the study were exposed to 3 hours, or a third of their waking day, of television on a daily basis.


Further, Mothers who had not completed high school and those who had active infants were more likely to feed their children in front of the TV. However, Bentley warned ‘Feeding infants in front of the TV can limit a mom’s responsiveness in terms of examining infant cues, such as when an infant is telling mom he is no longer hungry’ but these findings have ‘helped us design intervention strategies that will help teach moms how to soothe their babies, without overfeeding them or putting them in front of a TV.’ Bentley’s next step is to develop home-based parenting strategies for infants to achieve healthy growth and development.

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