2013 Grant Award - Stepanie M. Carlson, Ph.D.

A Longitudinal Study of Mother-Infant Feeding Interactions and Physical and Cognitive Development at Age 3 Years

Stephanie M. Carlson, Ph.D.
Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Obesity is associated with severe health risks and has become an epidemic in many developed nations. The most marked increases in obesity over the last three decades have occurred in children. Research is needed by multidisciplinary teams to extend current understanding of links between infant nutrition, maternal perceptions of infant hunger and feeding practices, and the neurocognitive factors associated with obesity, especially in early childhood. The proposed research aims to examine the longitudinal role of maternal feeding patterns during early infancy on the child’s physical growth, executive function (EF; cognitive control over one’s own behavior), and eating behaviors during the preschool period. This research will investigate a mediation model in which responsive infant feeding practices improve the child’s adiposity and eating behaviors at age 3 years, and this association will be partly influenced by the child’s EF abilities. Preliminary data suggest these links exist, but no prior study has examined these factors in conjunction and longitudinally. The project will take place over a 2-year period and include a longitudinal follow-up at age 3 years in 50 mother-infant dyads. It will offer a novel direction for research on the neurocognitive bases for the development and maintenance of child obesity and provide a springboard for external funding on a larger scale for randomized control trials aimed at obesity prevention efforts during early infancy.