Problem Eating Behavior in Preschool Children

Psychiatry_Psychology2.jpgGreek physician Hippocrates once said, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” According to the National Institutes of Health, at least one out of five kids in the U.S. is overweight. The number of overweight children continues to grow. Over the last two decades, this number has increased by more than 50% and the number of “extremely” overweight children has nearly doubled. The prevalence of underweight children has, however, decreased and only 1.6% children in the developed countries are underweight. Several factors can contribute to weight problems including improper caloric intake, genetics, and behavioral patterns.

In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Lise Dubois and collegeues analyzed the social issues that cause problem eating behavior and in turn, the effects of this behavior on the weight of preschoolers. They analyzed 1,498 children from the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Canada and observed that eating behaviors in children range from picky eating, irregular eating, overeating and binge eating. Factors like low birth weight and insufficient income contributed to picky eating. Single-parent family status, obese or overweight parents and gender played a role in overeating. Interestingly, low family income was a factor in overeating as well. A greater proportion of picky eaters were underweight at 4.5 years while overeating contributed to being overweight at that age. This study establishes a strong connection between family environment and weight problems.

Research in the past has shown that childhood weight issues could continue into adolescence and adulthood. Thus, a comprehensive program involving parents, teachers and children should be implemented all over the country. “Prevention is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Linda Johnson, Director of School Health Programs for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The Departments of Health and the Surgeon General’s Office have issued several guidelines like Physical Activity Guidelines for Children, Youth and Adults; Bright Futures in Practice: Nutrition; and Guidelines for childhood obesity prevention programs to name a few. But, it is important to spread awareness about these resources to teachers, children and parents. This is important to help children who are suffering unnecessarily from long-term health and emotional impacts of adult-like medical problems at younger ages.


Lise Dubois, Anna Framer, Manon Girard, Kelly Peterson, and Fabiola Tatone-Tokuda. Problem Eating Behaviors related to social factors and body weight in preschool children: A longitudinal study. Int J Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2007, 4:9.

Shamala Pulugurtha, MS

Shamala Pulugurtha, MS, has worked with Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and Pragathi Institute for the mentally challenged based in India.
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