Hedonic Eating in Toddlers: Risk Factor for Obesity? – MedPage Today

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Toddlers who chose to eat more sweets when they weren’t hungry were more likely to be heavier than those who ate less, and their choices seemed to have little to do with maternal or family characteristics, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at how more than 200 toddlers responded to desirable foods at age 21, 27, and 33 months. Those who ate the most sweets at 27 months had a higher body mass index (BMI) z-score (β=0.29, 95% CI 0.10-0.48),as did those who seemed most upset when the food was taken away (β=0.34, 95% CI 0.12-0.56),according to Julie Lumeng, MD, of the University of Michigan, in the May edition of Pediatrics.

“Hedonic intake of sweet food is visible, starts to increase, and predicts weight gain in children younger than age 3 years,” wrote the authors. “This study suggests that the timing of interventions targeting this behavior may need to occur before age 3 years. Developing interventions to reduce eating in the absence of hunger that are developmentally appropriate for toddlers may be an important, novel intervention strategy.”

Toddlers ate more when full as they grew older. There were also some predictors of a later childhood BMI z-score: male sex, older age, and high maternal education were all significantly associated with greater intake of total calories from both salty and sweet foods. But those who ate the most salty calories while full were not more likely to have a higher BMI z-score than those who ate the fewest, found Lumeng and colleagues.

The toddlers in the study were mostly from low income families and were recruited via flyers from 2011 to 2014. The study was described as an effort to see whether children with varying levels of stress ate differently. All mothers involved had less than a 4-year college degree and were at least 18.

Most of the toddlers entered the analysis at 21 months, but 58 of 209 entered at age 27 months. Data were collected over 5 days at each visit and included a questionnaire about eating behavior, family chaos, and food insecurity.

Mothers were told to let their toddlers fast for 1 hour; the toddlers were then given a typical lunch, after which a researcher presented either sweet foods — including Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies, among other sweetened items — or salty potato chips or cheese puffs. The researcher took at least one item off the plate, ate it, and told the child that it was really good and that they were welcome to have as much as they want.

How the toddlers responded when the snacks were presented and when, after 10 minutes, the food was taken away was recorded and later coded. The researchers found that the toddlers’ favorable response to food presentation increased with age (P=0.004).

Limitations of the study include a lack of generalizability as all of the women were considered to have low income. In addition, researchers went to the participants’ homes, and so relatively few variables could be controlled for.

“Despite these limitations, the study was able to describe eating behavior in a very young age group longitudinally in a diverse population at a lower socioeconomic level than previous work,” concluded the authors.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The authors disclosed no relationships with industry.

Hedonic Eating in Toddlers: Risk Factor for Obesity? – MedPage Today