Maternal executive function and the family food environment
The family food environment plays an important role in supporting children’s dietary quality, regulating eating behaviors, and promoting a healthy weight status. However, relatively little is known regarding parent-level factors that support or hinder parents’ ability to create health-promoting family food environments. The current study examines whether executive function among mothers, or mothers’ capacity to control their thoughts, emotions, and actions, is associated with qualities of the family food environment that support children’s healthy eating and weight. Cross-sectional data were collected from 492 US-based mothers of 2 to 9-year-old children in August 2017 (Mean maternal age = 34.2 years (SD = 6.7), 76.5% White race). Mothers’ difficulties with executive function were measured using the Behavior Rating of Executive Function-Adult Version and family food environment characteristics were measured via psychometrically-sound, self-report surveys. Standardized, linear regression models were used to examine covariate-adjusted associations between mothers’ executive function difficulties and family food environment characteristics, as well as the potential for differences in these associations by family sociodemographic characteristics. Mothers with more executive function difficulties consistently reported less use of recommended food-related parenting practices and less healthful home food environment characteristics including providing frequent family meals, implementing consistent mealtime schedules and structure, and avoiding using food to regulate children’s emotions. No differences in these associations were observed by mothers’ educational attainment, household income-to-needs ratio, or child age. Results suggest that lower executive function may interfere with mothers’ ability to create family food environments that support children’s healthy eating and weight.