A to Z’s of Early Childhood

The science of child development and learning

O is for Obesity Prevention

Preventing Obesity With Responsive Feeding

While many factors can increase the risk of obesity in early childhood, parents and caregivers serve an important role in obesity prevention through “responsive parenting.” Responsive parenting is the ability of a parent to interpret a child’s signals and respond appropriately with warmth and support.  There are four areas of responsive parenting, including feeding, soothing, sleep, and physical activity.  Responsive feeding is the process of recognizing and responding to a child’s hunger and fullness cues.  Research shows responsive feeding is one of the key steps to preventing early childhood obesity.

A mother gives her child a bottle.

Strategies for Responsive Feeding

Here are five strategies for parents and caregivers to practice responsive feeding. Click on each strategy to watch videos and learn more.

  • Hold your baby upright when feeding her a bottle or breastfeeding. 
  • Sit your young child in a high chair or secure seat facing you. 
  • Turn off all electronic devices during meal and snack times.
  • Provide breastmilk or iron-fortified formula as the main source of food for the first 6 months of your child’s life and continue until they are at least 1 year old.  
  • Give your child solid foods after they are 6 months old and can sit up with little or no support, maintain head and neck control, and munch and swallow.
  • If feeding your child packaged baby foods, choose ones with a single ingredient and no added sugar.

Introducing Solid Foods

First Food Recommendations

  • Aim to have regular family meals together by the time your child is 1 year old.
  • Make one meal for the entire family and offer your child the same healthy foods as the rest of the family by age 2. 
  • Provide toddlers with three meals and two to three healthy snacks at regular mealtimes each day.

Family Meals With Your Toddler

  • Learn your child’s hunger and fullness cues and respond accordingly.
  • Feed your child when he opens his mouth when a spoon is near, reaches for or points to spoon or food, or gets excited when food is provided.
  • Stop feeding a child when she shakes her head, turns her head away from food, or does not open her mouth.

Hunger and Fullness Cues (0-6 months)

Hunger and Fullness Cues (6-12 months)

  • Plan what your child will eat, when she will eat, and where.
  • Understand it is your child’s choice to decide whether to eat and how much. 
  • Avoid using food or other treats as a reward.

Feeding Solutions

What We Are Doing

The Anita Zucker Center and its affiliates help translate community nutrition research for parents and practitioners to improve nutrition related programs and policies.

Learn More:

BabyByte: Formative Research to Inform the Development of an App to Improve Responsive Feeding Practices in Parents of Infants and Toddlers
Learn more about Center Affiliate Dr. Amy Mobley’s qualitative study to determine parents’ preferred content and features for an app to improve responsive feeding practices.

Center Resources

Feeding Your Baby (PDF)
Download this PDF for dietary recommendations for infants and children based on specific age ranges.

BabyByte (Video Series)
This research-based video series offers age-specific tips to help parents improve responsive feeding practices with their infants and toddlers.

Other Resources

For Families

  • 1,000 Days: For Parents
    This web resource gives parents access to informative videos on a range of topics within nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
  • Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Feeding Explained
    This resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics offers video, infographics, and additional information about responsive feeding.
  • MyPlate, MyWins for Families
    This website, offered by the USDA ChooseMyPlate program, offers fun, practical tips and tools for families to help them find a healthy eating style that fits their lifestyle.

For Practitioners

  • Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers: A Responsive Parenting Approach
    Download this PDF to read more about healthy eating research to prevent childhood obesity. 
  • Infant Food and Feeding
    This website, by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), offers information about the onset and patterns of risk behaviors associated with overweight and obesity during infancy.
  • Food & Nutrition
    Visit this website to read the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines reflect the current body of nutrition science, helps health professionals and policymakers guide Americans to make healthy food and beverage choices, and serves as the science-based foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs across the United States.
  • Feeding Infants and Children from Birth to 24 months
    This study report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine offers a summary of existing guidance around feeding infants and children up to two years old.

Articles by Center Members and Collaborators

References

  1. Birch, L. L. & Doub, A. E. (2014). Learning to eat: birth to age 2 y. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(3), 723S-728S.
  2. Black, M. M. & Aboud, F. E. (2011). Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. Journal of Nutrition, 141(3), 490-494.
  3. Davison, K. K., & Birch, L. L. (2001). Childhood overweight: a contextual model and recommendations for future research. Obesity reviews: an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 2(3), 159–171. doi:10.1046/j.1467-789x.2001.00036.x
  4. Perez-Escamilla, R., Segura-Perez, S., & Lott, M. (2017). Feeding guidelines for infants and young toddlers: a responsive parenting approach. Healthy Eating Research. http://healthyeatingresearch.org
  5. Skinner, A., Ravanbakht, S., Skelton, J., Perrin, E., & Armstrong, S. (2018). Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in US children, 1999-2016. Pediatrics, 141(3).
  6. World Health Organization. (2016). Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/end-childhood-obesity/news/launch-final-report/en/ 

Dedicated to supporting the well-being of young children and their families, the Anita Zucker Center has engaged with its partners to launch an ambitious initiative designed to provide accessible and practical information about child development and learning to support parents, caregivers, professionals and policymakers.

The A to Z’s of Early Childhood is a trusted source that offers robust, quality and up-to-date information and resources informed by the science of early childhood development and learning – from short videos and quick tips to academic research and detailed policy briefs.

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