Bad Dog

How Well Does Scolding Work?

A new study in Appetite raises a question worth considering: how well does scolding work to improve eating habits and prevent obesity? The authors of this study observed how mothers express restrictive feeding behaviors: with negative or positive tone. They analyzed the characteristics of mothers and children that were associated with negative, positive, and total restrictive feeding behaviors. They found that mothers of children with obesity were more restrictive and particularly more scolding (i.e., using negative affective tone). The authors comment:

Perhaps the most salient finding in our study is that mothers of obese children had much higher rates of Restriction with Negative Affect than mothers of non-obese children. This form of restriction, including name calling, belittling, and shaming, has not been described in the literature to date. While mothers of obese children had higher rates of both restriction with positive affect and restriction with negative affect, we hypothesize that the impact of these different statements on the child is likely different.

This was an observational study, so it lays the groundwork for further research. Conclusions about cause and effect are certainly not possible. But it dovetails nicely, as the authors note, with prior research and particularly with research on stigmatization. Further research has the potential to better inform guidelines that advise against restrictive feeding practices by parents.

Scolding has a poor reputation. Though our gentle readers are surely not guilty of this sin, we may have lapsed from time to time.

Click here to read the study and here for perspective on how scolding enters into our discourse about food.

Bad Dog, photograph © Chad Miller / flickr

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April 19, 2016

6 Responses to “How Well Does Scolding Work?”

  1. April 19, 2016 at 6:07 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Very cool. Thanks for sharing, Ted.

    It reminds me of my frequent interactions as a plump pre-pubescent with my mom:

    “Mom, am I fat?”

    “No, Joey, you’re just right…. Have another cookie!”

    OK, I think I’m piling on with the cookie part, but I definitely heard “you’re just right” every time in response to my question.

    More proof of my being a lucky bastard? I’d say so.


    • April 19, 2016 at 7:55 am, Ted said:

      Just as lucky as your friends are, Joe. Thanks!

  2. April 19, 2016 at 7:46 am, Nancy Browne said:

    My clinical observation is that parents are placed under scrutiny and stress when their child has extra weight.. Which can then start a vicious cycle. My question ( and clinical observation) is about research looking at Fathers, grandparents, siblings, and others in the household. The inference that this cycle is just Mother/child is stereotypical… As usual, it is much more complicated. What concerns me here is that the subtle message again is that the Mother just needs to parent better….Fathers again are left out. The researchers should go to our clinics and hear the stories sometime for a broader truth

    • April 19, 2016 at 7:54 am, Ted said:

      Very true, Nancy. This gets very complicated, very quickly. Thanks for your insight!

  3. April 19, 2016 at 10:07 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    The very first restrictive diet is biblical …The admonishment was not to eat the apple….we all know the end of that story
    However if the admonishment was not to eat the snake
    I would likely not be writing this reply

    Forbidden Fruits Taste The Sweetest

    We have learned little from scripture

    Stephen Phillips
    American Association of Bariatric Counselor

    • April 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm, Ted said:

      Good point, Stephen. Thanks!