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As we approach the end of 2023, it also marks the beginning of the third and final year of the ESRC research grant for the APPETItE project. This year, we've made significant progress in our research, and we want to share some highlights.  

 

Four scientific articles have been published, and you can find more details on the APPETItE website. These are:  

  1. Reciprocal associations between parental feeding practices and child eating behaviours from toddlerhood to early childhood 

  2. Parental feeding practices as a response to child appetitive traits in toddlerhood and early childhood 

  3. Prospective associations between parental feeding practices used in toddlerhood and preschool children's appetite vary according to appetite avidity in toddlerhood 

Dr Alice Kininmonth has led research focused on understanding the connection between children's eating behaviours and the feeding practices of parents, using data from both identical and non-identical twins.  

One of the key findings is that using food as a reward is used by parents a 'natural' response to a child expressing greater emotional overeating tendencies. However, the research also showed that using food as a reward increases emotional overeating in early childhood. Thus, using food as a reward is a practice that we will include in our intervention development. 

We also found that using food to control a child’s emotions or behaviour during toddlerhood was associated with increases in appetite avidity from toddlerhood to early childhood, regardless of children’s appetites in toddlerhood. Thus, using food to control a child’s emotions or behaviour is another practice that we will include in our intervention development. 

  1. Identifying an avid eating profile in childhood: Associations with temperament, feeding practices and food insecurity 

An important step in the APPETItE project was also identifying different subgroups of eating behaviour in young children. Using statistical methods, Dr Abigail Pickard led the research that identified four types of eating styles in children between 3-6-years-old:  ‘avid’, ‘happy’, ‘typical’ or ‘avoidant’. The profile of interest for the APPETItE project and our future research are the children with avid eating because these children show higher levels of eating in response to emotions and food cues in the environment, rather than in response to hunger.

 

Dr Katie Edwards then conducted interviews with parents of children with avid eating behaviour, revealing valuable insights into the challenges they face and the strategies they use. The study results are currently under review and expected to be published in early 2024. This study suggested some strategies such as distraction and portioning which we are now testing out in the laboratory. 

We're also actively conducting two ongoing studies. In one study, we're using a smartphone app to survey parents multiple times over 10 days to understand when and why they use specific feeding strategies with their children who have avid eating behaviour. This study will help us understand how the situation and levels of stress affect feeding strategies. This can then inform our intervention development. 

 

The second ongoing study is based in the laboratory at Aston University’s Institute for Health and Neurodevelopment. We will ask parents to try specific strategies to reduce their child’s snacking after having a meal in the lab. If the strategies appear to work well at reducing snacking in children with avid eating, we will then develop these guidelines for parents in the final stage of the APPETItE project. If you know any parents/caregivers of a child aged 3-5-years-old who would like to take part, please click the get involved tab or email us at appetite@aston.ac.uk 

Thanks for your interest in our research!  

Season’s Greetings from the APPETItE team 

UK Society for Behavioural Medicine

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The APPETItE Team presented a symposium at the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine conference on 29th March. Prof Jackie Blissett, Prof Claire Farrow, Dr Abigail Pickard, Dr Alice Kininmonth, and Dr Katie Edwards discussed current findings from the APPETItE project.

APPETItE 2022 Summary

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2022 has been a busy year for the APPETItE team, who have been meeting many of the goals outlined in the research plan.


The team down in London have been analysing the data collected on identical and non-identical twins eating behaviour. The data looks at many different variables that influence children's eating behaviour and the difference between the twins. Their work has shown that the child’s eating behaviour influences how parents feed their child but also vice versa; how parents feed their child influences the child’s eating behaviour. More specifically, parents will use food for emotional comfort if the child shows more emotional over-eating, but this then leads to increases in the child’s tendency to overeat in response to emotions. The research from the London group has been written up as three research articles which will be published in scientific journals.


At Aston University, significant progress has been made on work package 2, with data collected for two of the three planned studies. The first study asked 1000 parents/caregivers to rate their 3-6-year-old child's eating behaviour, the research team were then able to create groups that characterised the different types of eating that are common in childhood. There appear to be four different eating behaviour profiles in young children: avid, happy, typical, and fussy. The research team also found that certain factors, such as the child’s temperament (for example, how emotional or sociable the child is) are associated with their eating profile. The results of this study have been written up as an article that will hopefully be published in spring 2023.


Based on the children who were assigned to the avid eating profile, the Aston team were then able to look more closely at parents’ experiences and challenges of feeding their child. 15 interviews with parents/caregivers of children with high food enjoyment and responsiveness to food were carried out. The participants detailed the challenges they experience and strategies they use to manage their child’s eating behaviour. The interviews are currently being analysed and the results will be written up early next year.


Aside from conducting the research studies, the APPETItE team have been busy promoting the project, through talks and public events. Abigail and Jackie discussed the differences in children’s eating behaviour and the factors that partly determine these behaviours in an online lecture for Aston University, the link for the talk can be found here.  


What’s coming up


2023 is set to be a busy year for the APPETItE team, with several large studies planned to take place. In early 2023, a 10-day study using smartphones will be conducted with approximately 200 parents/caregivers across the UK. This data will look at the context in which children ask for food and how parents think and feel at these moments. In mid-2023, parents and their children will be invited into the lab at Aston University to take part in research investigating how to modify parents’ feeding practices to reduce the child’s food intake.

New research on emotional eating in children

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Aston researcher Rebecca Stone and colleagues from Aston University and Loughborough University have published research looking at the role of parents' emotional eating, feeding practices and the child's temperament on children's emotional eating behaviour. Results showed that parents using food as a reward, or restricting food mediates the link between parents' emotional eating and children's emotional eating. 
Click the link below to read the Open Access article.

Children's emotional eating

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Researchers from Aston University and Loughborough University recently published research investigating how parental emotional eating is linked to child emotional eating via parental feeding practices. They highlighted that differences in children’s food approach behaviours and temperament are important to consider in this relationship. Their results found that greater parental use of food as a reward and restriction of food for health reasons mediated the relationship between greater parent EE and child EE, but that this mediating relationship was only significant for children with higher food approach, or with more emotional temperaments. These findings suggest that parental feeding practices that are less responsive are a mechanism through which parent EE may shape child EE, but also that the strength of this relationship depends on the child’s own appetitive traits or temperament.

ThinkTank Event

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Last week the APPETITE team along with the psychology department paid a visit to Birmingham’s ThinkTank Museum to talk to adults and children about the exciting work taking place in the Psychology Department at Aston University.
Click the link below to see the photos and find out more about the activities.

New research article about children's vegetable consumption

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Researchers from Aston University and the University of Birmingham recently conducted and published their research investigating how models' facial expressions when eating vegetables increased children's vegetable consumption. Their results found that children tasted and ate more than double the amount of raw broccoli after watching adults enjoy eating the same vegetable.

Want to get your children to eat their broccoli? SMILE! Kids who watch adults eat with positive facial expressions consume more than DOUBLE the amount of vegetables, study claims

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The Daily Mail newspaper recently published an article based on the research work of Katie Edwards and her colleagues at Birmingham's Aston University on how parent's facial expressions influence children's acceptance of broccoli.

Psychologists to tackle childhood obesity by studying avid eating behaviour

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A team of psychologists are to start work on a three-year project that will assist parents to address over-eating in pre-school children who have large appetites. The group, which specialises in childhood eating behaviour is led by Aston University, and includes researchers from Loughborough University, University College London and Kings College London. It is a result of a long-standing collaboration between the team members. 

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