The goal of this study was to test 3 serial mediation models of how caregiver adult attachment style influences children's food consumption through its influence on emotion regulation. Three mediators that have been shown to increase the risk for pediatric obesity and that are likely to be influenced by negative emotion regulation strategies in everyday family interactions were chosen: (1) caregiver feeding practices (2) family mealtime routines, and (3) child television (TV) viewing.
A total of 497 primary caregivers of 2.5- to 3.5-year-old children reported on their own attachment style, typical responses to their children's negative affect, feeding styles, mealtime and TV viewing routines, and their children's consumption of healthful and unhealthful foods.
Insecure mothers were more likely to use punishing or dismissing responses to their children's negative affect, and negative emotion regulation predicted the increased use of emotion-related feeding styles and fewer mealtime routines. These variables, in turn, were found to predict children's unhealthful food consumption, documenting serial mediational influences. With respect to TV viewing, caregiver insecurity influenced child food consumption indirectly through its direct effect on child TV viewing.
Taken together, these data suggest that insecure attachment may put parents at a risk for using negative emotion regulation strategies in response to their children's distress, which may also have important implications for the interpersonal environment surrounding food and the development of children's early eating behaviors.