Is Science Underrating Fathers’ Influence on Their Kids’ Eating Habits?

It's part of a larger issue surrounding men and food

Scientists might be overlooking an aspect of familial eating.
Spencer Davis/Unsplash

There’s been a lot of research done over the years that’s focused on the way kids eat — and the ways in which they can develop healthy (or unhealthy) eating habits. Some studies have looked to the influence of a child’s mother on their attitudes towards food — but according to one journalist who’s spent years exploding nutrition, eating and people’s attitudes to both, that’s missing a lot of the story.

Virginia Sole-Smith is the author of the book The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America and the Substack newsletter Burnt Toast. Her latest book, Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture, takes a look at the challenging relationship between parenting and food — and convincingly argues that the role of fathers in their kids’ dining habits has been overlooked for too long.

The Atlantic recently published an excerpt from Sole-Smith’s new book, which cites a 2014 study that found evidence of only 20 studies that took stock of the influence of fathers. According to Sole-Smith, things have improved somewhat since then — but, to state the obvious, that’s a lot of science that’s left a significant factor overlooked.

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Sole-Smith argues that this can be viewed as in tandem with another issue surrounding men and health — the idea that there isn’t enough discussion about men having eating disorders. “Men — especially straight, cisgender, white, thin men — aren’t defined by their appearance to the same degree that women and other marginalized people tend to be,” Sole-Smith writes. This, she continues, can explain why they’re left out of the discussion over kids’ eating habits.

It’s a welcome reminder that men do wrestle with their own issues surrounding food — and that this can have repercussions beyond the health of just one person.


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