Human biologists recognize the centrality of parental feeding beliefs and related practices in structuring children's under-nutrition risk in food-insecure settings. By contrast, how they might similarly structure children's nutrition-related health risks in calorically rich ecologies has barely been considered. Using the case of 3- to 6-year-old children in a rural Southeastern U.S. community with very high obesity rates, we use cognitive methods such as consensus analysis to determine how parental cultural models of child eating and feeding are linked to high calorie, obesogenic child diets. We find that parental models are very consistent with biomedical understandings (reduce fat, reduce sugar, portion control, etc.). Regardless, children's diets are extremely high in calories overall as well as in high sugar and fat food items. We suggest three likely and mutually reinforcing contributing factors to persistent and increasing early childhood overweight and obesity: Parents' ambivalence about modeling healthy eating, children's active resistance, and the balance of parents' social against nutritive goals at mealtimes. The active role of children as social architects of their own biology has been little explored in human biological studies, and should provide novel and important understandings of the biocultural construction of childhood over-nutrition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics