Systematic research review of observational approaches used to evaluate mother-child mealtime interactions during preschool years

Heidi Bergmeier, Helen Skouteris, Marion Hetherington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The family meal and social interactions during the meal are important events in a child's life. Specifically, mealtime interactions have been linked to child weight status, the development of children's eating patterns, and socialization. Mealtime interactions may be observed and evaluated to provide insights into this important event beyond self-reported measurements. Objective: We aimed to identify, review, and examine studies in which mother-child mealtime behaviors were measured through observation. Design: MEDLINE Complete, PsycINFO, and PsycARTICLES were systematically searched by using sensitive search strategies. We included observational studies of mother-child eating and mealtimes and associations between mother-child interactions and preschool child eating or weight status published to March 2014. Results: Thirteen articles were included in our review. All studies but one were cross-sectional, and none of the studies evaluated how mutual dimensions (e.g., parent responsiveness to the child and child responsiveness to the parent) of dyadic interactions between mothers and children influence maternal feeding practices, children's eating, and weight. The parenting style was associated with maternal feeding practices but not directly with children's eating. Parental discouragements to eat and negative statements about food were associated with higher child weight status. Parental encouragement to eat was associated with higher child weight status as well as maternal body mass index. No associations were shown between maternal reports of feeding practices and observed maternal feeding practices. Conclusions: Parents' overarching attitudes and approaches to parenting appear to be associated with their feeding practices or styles. Future studies should implement longitudinal observational methods with the capacity to measure levels of dimensions within bidirectional parent-child interactions and the extent to which these factors influence maternal practices, children's eating, and weight status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-15
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood obesity
  • Children's eating
  • Mealtime observations
  • Mother-child interactions
  • Preschoolers

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