Background

Approximately one out of eight low-income preschool children are at risk of developing obesity in adulthood. Parenting behaviors related to diet and physical activity during preschool years are critical in establishing long-term healthy habits. The aim of this study was to assess parenting behaviors and the relationship with their child's BMI.

Methods

A survey of 302 parents of preschool children enrolled in Head Start centers was conducted to assess parenting behaviors related to diet and physical activity. Questions included parents' pressuring children to eat; restricting snacks and access to screens; and using tv or treats as rewards to encourage behaviors. Regression analysis was used to identify relationships among parenting behaviors and their child's BMI.

Results

Approximately 24% of parents reported using food as a reward and 30% reported using tv/video games as rewards. Almost 45% of parents reported forcing their child to eat when they are not hungry. Children’s body mass index values ranged from 12.7 to 26.4. The regression model with all parenting behaviors accounted for about 13% of variance in BMI (p<.05). Strongest predictors of BMI were limiting behaviors (r=-.151, p<.01), restricting snacks (r=-.126, p<.05), and using food and tv as rewards (r=.19, p<.05).

Conclusions

Low-income minority preschoolers are at high-risk of developing obesity. Interventions are needed to address parental misconceptions regarding healthy feeding practices and to teach health-promoting practices.