ACA Blog

Kristy Carlisle
Mar 01, 2011

Food Addiction: The Complex Parent-Child Interaction

So, if food addiction exists, and not everyone believes it does, what are the possible influences that could breed the problem in children? My research shows parental, familial, environmental, and cultural influences at play. These influences stem from known causes and correlations concerning obesity, addictions and eating disorders, and they can be applied to the disordered eating food addiction implies. In this blog, I’d like to share my findings on potential parental influences on food addiction in children, focusing on the parents’ own psychopathology, obesity, and attitudes and behaviors regarding food and eating.

Addictions, eating disorders and obesity aggregate in families, and children of suffering parents are at the highest risk when they share both genes and environment. Specifically, parental obesity more than doubles the risk of adult obesity among both obese and non-obese children under 10 years old. Children are directly influenced by child-feeding practices and they also model the behaviors and attitudes they observe from their parents.

The food environments parents create for their children are paramount in the behaviors and attitudes children will develop for themselves about food. Parents control food environment by exposing children to certain foods, by providing certain portion sizes, by their feeding styles, by their role modeling, by the physical activity they encourage, by the sedentary behavior they allow, by the family routines they create. These parent-child interactions teach children how to eat, exercise and cope. Thus, children are more at risk when their parents experience an eating disorder or suffer from obesity. These influences can be compounded by socioeconomic status, income, availability of healthy food, and level of education.

Ultimately, there is always evidence of the hereditary factor, but more and more credence is being given to the behaviors and attitudes children learn from their parents. Overeating or disordered eating is, in many cases, a learned behavior, regardless of genetic predisposition.

Kristy L. Carlisle is a school counselor and a mental health counselor in training at Rider University. Her interests include protecting children from cyber-bullying and from food addiction.

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