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Pediatrics. 2000 Dec;106(6):1429-35.

Improving Preschoolers' self-regulation of energy intake.

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Department of Pediatrics, The Children's Hospital of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA.



Children exhibit individual differences in their ability to self-regulate energy intake. Feeding strategies that focus on external signals, like the time of day or amount of food left on a plate, tend to diminish children's ability to respond to internal cues of hunger and fullness.


We investigated whether children could be taught to focus on internal cues of hunger and satiety, and consequently improve their self-regulation of energy intake. We explored whether parents' eating behaviors and adiposity were related to their children's self-regulation skills and adiposity.


In a pretest and posttest design, preschoolers participated in single-meal protocols to assess their individual ability to self-regulate food intake. During a 6-week intervention period, children took part in individual and group activities designed to help them recognize internal cues. Parents completed questionnaires regarding adult dietary restraint and disinhibition.


At baseline, we found a large individual variability in children's regulation: some children overate, some regulated accurately, and others underate. At baseline, children's eating related to their adiposity and to mothers' disinhibition: heavier children and children whose mothers' reported difficulty controlling food intake showed less evidence of self-regulation. Both overeaters and undereaters responded to the intervention, improving their ability to self-regulate, and children's eating was no longer significantly related to mother's eating.


Children's disregulated energy intake is related to mothers' weight status and mothers' perceived control over eating. Cues can be provided that help children to focus on internal signals and improve their ability to self-regulate energy intake.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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