Does Mom Know When Enough Is Enough?

Missed satiety cues from infants linked to obesity

St. Louis, MO, May 11, 2009 – As the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States continues, researchers are examining whether early parent and child behaviors contribute to the problem. A study from the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University, published in the May/June 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reports that mothers who miss signs of satiety in their infants tend to overfeed them, leading to excess weight gains during the 6 month to 1 year period.

Ninety-six low-income black and Hispanic mothers, who chose to formula feed exclusively, were enrolled in the study. Data was collected during an initial interview and three home visits at 3, 6, and 12 months. During the home visits, feedings were observed, the mothers were interviewed, and the child’s weight was measured. Feeding diaries were also checked for omissions or clarifications.

A number of characteristics that predicted infant weight gain from birth to 3 months were included in the analysis. These were birth weight, gender, race/ethnicity, maternal age, education, country of origin, body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, and weight gain during pregnancy. For the 3 to 6 month period, birth weight, maternal BMI, infant weight gain from birth to 3 months, infant length gain from birth to 3 months, the estimated number of feeds per day, the month that solid food was introduced, and the mothers’ sensitivity to the infants’ signals at 3 months were included. And, finally, for the 6 to 12 month period, birth weight, maternal BMI, infant weight gain from 3 to 6 months, infant length gain from 3 to 6 months, maternal sensitivity to infant signals at 6 months, and the estimated number of feeds/day at 6 months were entered as the independent variables.

None of these variables served to predict infant weight gain over the first 3 months, or similarly, from 3 to 6 months. However, the number of feeds per day at 6 months approached significance in predicting weight gain from 6 to 12 months, and maternal sensitivity to the infants’ signals reached predictive significance, but in a negative direction - indicating that mothers who were less sensitive to satiety cues had infants who gained more weight.

Writing in the article, John Worobey, PhD; Maria Islas Lopez, MA; and Daniel J. Hoffman, PhD, state, “More frequent feedings, particularly with formula, are an easy culprit on which to assign blame. But maternal sensitivity to the infant’s feeding state, as reflected by the Feeding Scale scores, suggests that an unwillingness to slow the pace of feeding or terminate the feeding when the infant shows satiation cues may be overriding the infant’s ability to self-regulate its intake.”

However, the researchers warn that, “To use this knowledge to better inform low-income/educated mothers, indeed, mothers of any background who have settled on a feeding method, could pose a daunting challenge. Feeding an infant is a primal behavior, and to suggest to a new mother that she is feeding her infant too often, too much, or worse yet, is not very good at reading her infant’s signals, would require an extremely skilled nurse or social worker. Giving counsel after watching a mother feed her infant might be seen as threatening, or at the very least meddling, and just pointing it out could be construed as an accusation of ‘poor mothering.’”

The article is “Maternal Behavior and Infant Weight Gain in the First Year” by John Worobey, PhD; Maria Islas Lopez, MA; and Daniel J. Hoffman, PhD. It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 41, Issue 3, (May/June 2009) published by Elsevier.

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Full text of the article is available upon request; contact Lynelle Korte at +1 314-453-4841 or l.korte@elsevier.com to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors please contact John Worobey, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University, at +1 732-932-6517 or worobey@rci.rutgers.edu.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education And Behavior 
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education (SNE), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

About Elsevier

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Media Contact:
Lynelle Korte
Elsevier
+1 314 453 4841
l.korte@elsevier.com