Research Examines Children’s Feeding Behaviors

How do parents decide what foods and beverages to feed their children? Karina Lora, PhD RD, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, researches how parents make these decisions. She examines the varying social and individual factors that influence what foods and beverages preschool children aged 2 to 5 consume at home.

“I focus my research on preschool children because they are at an age where they’re beginning to establish healthy behaviors,” Lora said.

Lora recently studied why fathers in African-American and Hispanic communities feed their children highly caloric sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and fruit juices. Her research found that African-American fathers would agree to sugar-sweetened beverages because they succumbed to pressure from their children who wanted the drinks. However, Hispanic fathers were more likely to provide sugar-sweetened beverages to their children as a way to calm down unruly behavior or out of worry that the child was underweight.

Lora has also developed a 12-item beverage intake questionnaire for preschoolers that asks parents to report on the beverages their children drink. The tool, resembling a food frequency questionnaire, is the only one that examines beverage consumption in young children.

Understanding why parents make these feeding choices can impact children’s health. Parents help establish children’s feeding behaviors and choices, Lora said, which is important in combating consumption of highly caloric foods that can lead to childhood obesity. Children with obesity are at higher risk of having other chronic health conditions and diseases, and are more likely to struggle with obesity as adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lora, who is originally from Lima, Peru, joined Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) in August as a visiting assistant professor. She came to Milken Institute SPH from the University of Maryland Extension, where she was a nutrition educator and special projects coordinator.

Click here to view Lora’s beverage intake questionnaire.