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Psychological Science
Completed Project

Toddler Food Choices and Infancy Feeding History

Brianna P. Reed, Vassar College ’16, Christina A. Fratto, Sacred Heart University’17 and Prof. Debra M. Zeifman

Breastfeeding is protective against obesity in childhood yet little is known about the mechanisms underlying this effect. Previous research has linked caregivers’ self-reported feeding practices to toddler obesity risk but few studies have looked directly at toddler eating behavior. The present study examines whether breastfeeding is associated with toddlers’ calorie consumption in a controlled setting.

We conducted a pilot test in N=11 toddlers attending camp and daycare at Vassar. Children’s food intake was measured in response to a standard meal and a meal provided by parents, and children were weighed and measured. Parents completed surveys reporting child feeding history and current eating habits, as well as parent BMI. The nutritional content of a lunch provided by parents was analyzed. 

Our ability to detect differences in toddlers’ eating based on feeding history was limited by the small size and homogeneity of our pilot sample. Over 91% were breastfed, and 70% were breastfed for longer than 6 months. None of the toddlers were obese, and only a small number (4/11) had BMIs that represent risk for overweight. Nonetheless, we found significant associations between breastfeeding and parent-provided lunches. Extended exclusive breastfeeding was associated with parents providing a lower-calorie lunch (r11 = -8.55, p = .001). Further, toddlers at elevated risk for overweight had higher-calorie lunches than average-risk children, t(9) = 1.99, p = .08. Because children tended to consume calories commensurate with the amount of calories provided, parents’ food offerings might be one avenue through which parents influence children’s obesity risk.