The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is spending nearly $80,000 to study how parents talk to their kids about food.
The grant, which was awarded to the University of Michigan earlier this year, funds an analysis of "parent-child food talk" to "toddlers, preschoolers, and preteens" as a way to fight obesity.
"Parents are vital in shaping child eating behavior, dietary intake, and ultimately obesity risk," according to the grant for the project. "Research implicates family mealtimes as important for child obesity prevention and development of healthy eating habits, but findings are not consistent."
The grant suggests the project is necessary because parents frequently talk about food at times other than formal meals, and those conversations have never been analyzed.
"One reason for the inconsistent associations may be that a substantial proportion of parent-child interactions around food occur outside the mealtime context and have historically been unmeasured," the grant said. "Eating outside of mealtimes, particularly snacking after school hours has increased in recent years and is proposed as contributing to excessive child weight gain and a potentially important context for child socialization around food and eating."
The researchers will study "naturalistic parent-child interactions around food (i.e., ‘food parenting’) outside of mealtimes," and look at whether parents give in to their child if they repeatedly ask for snacks.
The project has received $77,563 so far, and is expected to receive funding until March 2016.
"Understanding food talk outside of mealtimes holds promise for future intervention development to prevent childhood obesity," the grant said.
A separate study recently found that the probability of obese people reaching a "normal" weight is less than 1 percent.