Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Nutrition Science and Dietetics

Advisor(s)

Lynn Brann

Keywords

child nutrition, eating competence, maternal influence, nutrition

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences

Abstract

Introduction: Nutritional intake is often controlled and rationalized through an individual’s status of eating competence (EC). EC is defined as allowing oneself to be comfortable, flexible, and positive with eating while respecting personal desires and enjoying nourishing food. EC is divided into 4 sub categories: eating attitudes, food regulation, food acceptance and contextual skills. Competent eaters are more likely to consume more essential vitamins and minerals for functional health, compared to those whose were not competent eaters. Researchers have examined the role mothers play on influencing children’s eating pattern development and have found that modeling is thought to be a significant predictor of children’s dietary intake, especially fruit and vegetable (F/V) consumption. The aim of this study was to examine possible relationships between maternal eating competence and its potential role on maternal and child F/V intake.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study of mothers (n=68) recruited from preschools in Central New York and Central North Carolina. Maternal and child dietary data (maternal report for both) were collected using two online F/V screeners (2-Item and 16-Item). Maternal eating competence scores were assessed using Satter’s Eating Competence Survey, ecSI 2.0. Income categories were calculated using guidelines determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Federal poverty level (FPL) was computed based on the number of people in the household compared to annual income reported to determine whether a participant fell below or above the 2018 FPL. Comparisons were made between a mother’s total eating competence score and the F/V intakes for both her and her child. The relationship between a mother’s F/V intake and a child’s F/V intake was also examined.

Results: Forty-five percent of mothers were considered to be eating competent with an average eating competency score of 31+7.8 (eating competence = >32). As a whole, this population exhibited high aptitude in eating competence categories. Mothers’ eating competence scores positively correlated with the number of cups of F/V children consumed (p<0.05). A mother’s eating competence was significantly and positively associated with a child’s total fruit intake (cups/day), salad intake (cups/day), and consumption of other vegetables (cups/day). Mothers’ eating competence was also significantly and positively associated with the cups/day of vegetables she consumed (p<0.05), but not the number of cups/day of fruit and fruit juice consumed. No statistically significant differences were found in total fruit or vegetable intake of children with EC mothers compared to those with non-EC mothers.

Conclusions: There are significant associations between maternal and child fruit and vegetable intake in relation to maternal eating competence. Increased maternal eating competence plays a positive role in increased intake of F/V of preschool aged children. Eating competence supported increased vegetable intake in mothers based on current dietary recommendations (2.5-3 cups/d) but did not predict adequate intake. Less than half of the participants were found to be EC, creating an area of potential improvement. The relationship between maternal EC and child diet quality needs continued exploration as the current study provides initial evidence to expand upon this in future research.

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Open Access

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