Forum: Avoid restrictive feeding practices with kids

An overweight child.
An overweight child.PHOTO: ST FILE

Unicef's State of the World's Children report, released last week, highlighted the issue of malnutrition among children under five years old (1 in 3 young kids undernourished or overweight: UN, Oct 16).

The report focused on not only under-nutrition but also the rise of obesity. Easily accessible junk food was cited as an important contributor to the problem of obesity. Taxes on salty, sugary and fatty foods, as well as limiting advertising of such items, were listed as ways to alleviate the problem.

These measures make sense. And Singapore will soon become the first country in the world to ban advertisements for sugary drinks.

But bans alone will not solve the problem. Beyond these controls over what food and drinks are available, we also need to consider how children are fed and support them in developing healthy attitudes regarding food.

A common practice is to force children to finish everything on their plate. But children who are encouraged to concentrate on the amount of food left on their plates are less likely to recognise their own satiation, compared with those taught to take note of hunger cues.

Controlling feeding practices is most commonly used with very young children (aged one to four years old).

Yet, research suggests that when children decide on their own portion sizes and identify their own hunger cues, they develop self-regulation skills.

Beyond these controls over what food and drinks are available, we also need to consider how children are fed and support them in developing healthy attitudes regarding food.

Conversely, when restrictive feeding practices - such as pressure to eat, limiting foods and using food as a reward - are used, children are more likely to desire as well as consume larger quantities of prohibited foods.

Early childhood is a sensitive time when children develop eating behaviours, which impact future health outcomes.

As societies develop, it is essential that caregivers' feeding behaviours change too. The real solution is to help children acquire the socio-emotional skills required to navigate this prosperous new world with its never-before-seen abundance of food.

Chin Hui Wen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2019, with the headline 'Avoid restrictive feeding practices with kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe