Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and University of Buffalo have found an association between child temperament and eating behaviors, including eating speed, responsiveness to the sight or smell of food, and satiety. The study, which was published in Pediatric Obesity and supported by a grant to CHOP, has implications for future childhood obesity research, given that faster eating and higher responsiveness to food cues are linked with obesity risk in children.
Performing a secondary analysis of a pilot intervention at CHOP to reduce eating speed, the researchers analyzed 28 participants with or at risk for obesity who were between the ages of 4 and 8. They assessed children for three facets of temperament (surgency, which is a proxy for impulsiveness; self-regulation; and negative affect, which involves negative emotions and trouble self-soothing) and three measures of eating self-regulation (satiety responsiveness, or the realization that one is full; eating speed; and food responsiveness, which is the urge to eat when food is seen, smelled, or tasted).
The researchers found that children who ate more slowly tended to exhibit less surgency, or impulsiveness, and children who were more responsive to the sight, smell, and taste of food were more likely to experience frustration and discomfort and have difficulties self-soothing.
“These are encouraging findings,” said Robert I. Berkowitz, MD, an attending physician in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and senior author of the study. “Future research should examine the nature of parental feeding practices and whether they are inspired by or contribute to child temperament. There may also be an opportunity to infuse measures of temperament as moderators or mediators of treatment response.”