Childhood obesity is a worldwide problem and eating behaviour is an important factor influencing the development of obesity. The habit of eating more than necessary develops in early childhood and often remains present throughout adulthood. A new multidisciplinary treatment programme in preschool children has led to an enhancement of eating behaviour leading to reduced food intake.
By Gianni Bocca
Worldwide, more and more children are becoming overweight. Increased food intake is an important factor leading to the development of obesity, and is associated with a child’s eating behaviour. In previous studies, it has been shown that behavior associated with eating more than necessary arises in an early phase of child development and persists over time. The persistence of an eating style associated with becoming overweight, may contribute to the fact that many overweight children remain overweight into adolescence and adulthood.
The three patterns of eating behaviour
Eating behaviour can be distinguished in three styles. One of these eating styles is restrained eating behaviour, which means that one is determined to restrict food intake in order to control body weight. In contrast, external eating (eating in response to food cues appealing to the senses) and emotional eating (eating in response to negative emotions) are associated with a tendency to overeat.
Retraining behaviour can prevent obesity later in life
It has been shown that retraining eating behaviour was effective in obese adolescents. Until now, the effect of overweight treatment programs on eating behaviour in preschool children was largely unknown. This is unfortunate, as overweight young children in particular could benefit from interventions to improve eating behaviour, thereby preventing the persistence of obesity over time.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers evaluated the effect of a multidisciplinary treatment programme (comprising dietary advice and psychological counselling for parents) on eating behaviour in overweight preschool children, comparing them with children given standard treatment.
“Eating behaviour can already be influenced in overweight preschool children”
Eating behaviour was evaluated using questionnaires and these were completed by the parents at the start, at the end of the 16-week program, and after 12 months. The children in the multidisciplinary treatment program showed more restrained eating behaviour at the end of the programme, however, this was not different with respect to the children receiving standard care.
There was no association between changes in the children’s body mass index and changes in eating behaviour. “Eating behaviour can already be influenced in overweight preschool children,” stated author Gianni Bocca after completing the study. “The insights gained from this study can be used to optimize obesity treatment programs involving dietary and psychological counselling,” he concluded.
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