Study shows parents are overfeeding toddlers

19 July 2016

A UK study has found that the vast majority of parents unwittingly offer their toddlers too much food, putting their children at risk of obesity.

The study, carried out by food and nutrition health professionals at the Infant and Toddler Forum, involved a survey of more than 1,000 parents.

The survey revealed that nearly 80% of parents offer their toddlers bigger portions than the recommended size range for pre-schoolers when serving meals.

It also revealed that one in ten parents served their children portions that were close to adult-sized meals.

The results highlight the emotional complexities of feeding toddlers:

  • 73% of parents were more concerned their child did not eat enough.  This is nearly double the rate of those concerned their child eats too much.
  • Only a quarter of parents were concerned their child may become overweight in the future
  • Only 25% of parents were “very confident” about the amount of food to give to their child.
  • 36% of parents used food as a way of calming children down when they they are upset.

Experts warn that using food or drink as a reward to comfort or distract encourages young children to rely on food to deal with emotions and may teach them to continue to use this behaviour in later life.

Paediatric dietitian and member of the Infant and Toddler Forum, Judy More, says practical advice for parents on portion sizes for toddlers has been lacking.

“Our survey revealed a significant lack of understanding about how much to feed toddlers and with new evidence linking larger portion sizes to excess weight gain it’s clear that parents need practical advice now.”

Fellow member of the forum, Gill Harris a child and clinical psychologist, says it’s never too early to start promoting healthy eating habits.

“Most toddlers are naturally better than older children and adults at regulating their food intake. They usually only eat what they need and don’t overeat. However, portion size is critical. It’s one of the main ways in which, as parents, we can inadvertently override children’s self-regulation systems.

“Larger portions form our acceptance about what is an appropriate amount to eat and this becomes the “norm”. In other words, how much you offer often determines how much your child will eat and habits learned early in life tend to persist,” she says.

The Infant and Toddler Forum has some helpful guides on portion sizes for toddlers which you can find here.