Daughters learn eating habits from mothers

April 14, 2004 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Daughters learn eating habits from mothers

Like the old adage "like mother, like daughter" says, women can pick up many eating habits by watching their mothers in the kitchen.

Investigators found that low-income African-American women often learn from their mothers to be "grateful" for the food they are given, but may get few lessons on which foods are healthier than others. Specifically, discussions with 21 women between the ages of 25 and 65 revealed that women were often taught that food was scarce, and they should eat everything they are served - a practice that could lead to overeating.

And while some mothers told their daughters that they should eat more vegetables because they are "good for you," other daughters received no such information.

Girls watch their mothers closely, and these findings demonstrate that women have a great opportunity to provide their daughters with life-long healthy eating habits, "by their own positive example," said the study author. The researchers note that habits become behaviours when they begin early, when they are routinely observed in parents, and seem to be valued by an authority figure.

During the study, the researchers reviewed information gathered from four discussion groups with the women. Two of the groups included women between the ages of 25 and 45, and the other two groups were made up of women between the ages of 46 and 65. All study participants were members of the African Methodist Episcopalian church, and lived in low-income communities in South Carolina.

Although there were many similarities between the older and the younger women, the researchers discovered important differences, as well. For instance, younger women were more likely to say that they eat differently now than their mothers did, noting that their busier lifestyle and added conveniences like microwaves often discourage them from cooking large meals three times per day, as their mothers did.

Younger women also indicated that they learned about the importance of healthy eating and its relationship to diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure at an earlier age than older women.

In many cases, women also picked up their attitudes about their bodies from their mothers. For instance, older women said they were often taught by their mothers to be happy with their bodies, and their mothers only rarely spoke about wanting to lose or gain weight. However, some younger women reported that their mothers dieted, or were concerned that their daughters looked too thin.

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