The Real Reasons Why Parents Struggle With Children’s Portion Sizes
Kristina Curtis, 4 Nov 17

A tasty treat but is it too much? Shutterstock/Daniel M. Nagy

Parents are repeatedly told to watch what they are feeding their children, but they must also keep a keen eye on how much of it they are serving.

As the place where they consume around two thirds of their daily food intake, being obese or overweight begins at home for children. Child portion control has become so much of a problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared families’ healthy food portions critical to childhood weight management.

But very little is known about what exactly influences parents’ portion size choices for their children. Previous research into child weight management has identified gaps in parents’ knowledge, denial of their children’s weight status, and cultural practices as barriers towards healthy eating. Few studies have been done into parents’ portion behaviours, however.

To find out the situation in the UK, we conducted a series of group discussions with 22 parents from across the country – mainly mothers with overweight children above the age of five – along with four family weight management caseworkers. Unlike previous qualitative research, we wanted to get answers directly from adults.

Knowledge and emotion

So far, efforts to explain the consumption of large portion sizes have focused mainly on how the shape and size of dinnerware provides visual prompts that influence consumption beyond our consciousness, as well as the availability of low cost, large quantities of high energy dense foods.

But our findings suggest that both parents’ emotional and habitual responses, and beliefs are also potentially important influences on their portion control behaviours.

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