Influences on Child Eating and Weight Development From a Behavioral Genetics Perspective

Tanja V. E. Kral, PhD; Myles S. Faith, PhD


J Pediatr Psychol. 2009;34(6):596-605. 

In This Article

Summary and Limitations

EAH is an eating trait which has been widely studied both from an environmental and a genetic perspective in children. Despite the many important insights these studies have generated so far, there still exist large gaps as to how children's eating behavior and weight regulation can be ameliorated. For one, EAH has been studied primarily in white, middle class girls, although more recently the eating trait has also been examined in Hispanic children (Fisher, Cai et al., 2007). The fact that EAH has been studied primarily in Caucasian girls limits the generalizability of the findings to a broader population of children. It will be crucial to further expand these studies to children from different ethnic groups and of different socio-economic status (SES) in the future. Second, the mechanisms which underlie the development and maintenance of EAH in children remain poorly understood and need further investigation. Furthermore, the systematic study of children's eating behavior should be widened to other eating traits and properties of foods (e.g., energy density), which may affect children's eating. These studies should encompass both short- and long-term investigations. It will also be important to investigate the effects of parental factors such as SES, education, and income on child eating behavior. Lastly, self-report instruments need to be developed for EAH and other eating traits because the assessment of these traits in the laboratory will not be feasible for large-scale genetics studies.

The purpose of the current review was to provide an overview of how genetic and nongenetic factors can affect children's eating and weight development. This review primarily focused on behavior genetics and did not take into account molecular genetics studies which tested the effects of specific genes on child eating traits or body weight. The specific genes influencing EAH currently are unknown and, in principle, one could speculate about any of the hundreds of genes that have been associated with variations in human weight status or adiposity (see the "Human Obesity Gene Map") (Rankinen et al., 2006). Future research is expected to address the specific genes influencing child EAH. This review also did not discuss the influence of physical activity on children's eating and weight regulation.


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