Parents have an important role in feeding their children. Parents' childfeedingpractices can be influenced by numerous factors. The presence of mentalhealthsymptoms can be associated with more controlling, less sensitive parent-childfeeding interactions. However, it is not known whether mentalhealthsymptoms are related to parents' use of responsive, more autonomy supportive feedingpractices which are important for promoting children's healthy eating habits.
This study therefore aimed to examine the relationships between mentalhealthsymptoms and the use of controlling and responsivechildfeedingpractices. A community sample of 415 UK mothers with a child age 2-4 years took part. They completed self-report measures of their levels of anxiety, depression and disordered eating behaviours as well as a comprehensive measure of their childfeedingpractices.
The presence of mentalhealthsymptoms was significantly associated with greater self-reported use of controllingfeedingpractices, such as more restriction for weight control and using food as a reward. Maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression were related to lower use of modelling and monitoring but to giving children more control around food. Mothers' restrained and external eating behaviours were associated with greater use of several responsivefeedingpractices, including encouraging balance and variety, involvement, and teaching about nutrition.
Together, these findings highlight the broad impact that mentalhealthsymptoms can have on mothers' controlling and responsivechildfeeding interactions. Interventions to support families to promote healthy child eating habits need to be aware of the role of even fairly mild, non-clinical levels of mentalhealthsymptoms on maternal sensitivity and involvement in feeding their children.
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