Food Rules for Toddlers May Lead to Healthy Eating Habits
Study found telling 2-year-olds what they can’t eat meant they ate better at age 4
This research sought to assess how parents influence their children’s eating habits.
A recent study has shown that children’s diets are healthier when their parents are restrictive with what they can and cannot eat, instead of being more lenient. The results suggested that these children are better able to control their impulses.
The University at Buffalo researchers analyzed data from almost 9,000 American children whose self-regulation was assessed at age 2. The children’s diets and parental food rules were then checked at age 4 .
Therefore setting rules around eating and eating habits can be of benefit to children’s diet in the short and long term – ultimately benefiting their health as well.
“Parents can make a difference here by training young children to self-regulate, and also by setting food rules in the home,” study senior author Xiaozhong Wen, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, said in a university news release .
Most healthy children should be able to regulate their own intake and decide how much food is right for them. This can sometimes come undone if they are in an environment where the ‘finish everything that’s on your plate’ rule comes in to play.
“We found that the combination of parental rules and young children’s ability to self-regulate their behaviors works best in teaching young children to eat healthy,” Wen said.
“In adults and adolescents, self-regulation, emotional eating and obesity have been well-studied, but there is very little information about the role that self-regulation plays in young childhood obesity,” Wen said .
Some individual’s think that being too restrictive will cause children to rebel. This study, however, cements the importance of parents setting rules surrounding what foods their children are allowed. Of course treats can be part of those rules on special occasions but the issue is that more often than not, these “extra” foods creep in to day to day intake.
“We found that children who were able to self-regulate at 2 years old had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4 years old, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat. We found that self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in children’s later eating habits,” Wen concluded 
Study co-author Neha Sharma, a recent graduate from the university’s department of psychology, added, “It is amazing to see that a parental rule about which types of food a child can and cannot eat could have such a great impact on child eating habits .”
This drills home the message that parents shouldn’t become complacent about what their children eat or what they eat in front of their children.
Sharma suggested in the news release that “without these boundaries set by caregivers, the benefits of high self-regulation on weight gain and childhood obesity could be diminished. This illustrates just how important parental involvement is in influencing child eating habits .”
SOURCE: University at Buffalo, news release, Nov. 11, 2014