Open Access Open Badges Research article

Why do mothers encourage their children to control their weight? A cross-sectional study of possible contributing factors

Anja C Schreiber*, Dorothea Kesztyüs, Tamara Wirt, Nanette Erkelenz, Susanne Kobel, Jürgen M Steinacker and The "Komm mit in das gesunde Boot - Grundschule" Research Group

Author Affiliations

Division of Sports and Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine II, Ulm University Medical Centre, Frauensteige 6, 89075 Ulm, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:450  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-450

Published: 13 May 2014



Mothers encouraging their children to control their weight is problematic as it is associated with children’s body dissatisfaction and weight concerns as well as further weight gain. The aim of this study was to identify factors in children and mothers associated with mothers encouraging their children to control their weight and possible gender differences therein.


Cross-sectional questionnaire data was available from 1658 mothers of primary school children (mean age 7.1 ±0.6 years, 50.4% boys) participating in the Baden-Württemberg Study. Children’s body weight and height were measured in a standardised manner. Logistic regressions were computed separately for boys and girls, adjusted odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) from the final model are reported.


29% of children were encouraged by their mothers, girls (32.4%) significantly more often than boys (25.6%). Child BMI (girls OR 1.77, CI 1.57 to 1.99; boys OR 1.88, CI 1.66 to 2.13), and child migration background (girls OR 2.14, CI 1.45 to 3.16; boys OR 1.60, CI 1.07 to 2.37) were significantly associated with encouragement by mothers. For girls, maternal body dissatisfaction (OR 1.59, CI 1.10 to 2.30) and maternal perception of a low influence on health (OR 0.51, CI 0.29 to 0.89) were also significantly associated with maternal encouragement. For boys, this was true of mothers self-efficacy to influence their children’s physical activity (OR 0.58, CI 0.40 to 0.85).


Different factors are associated with mothers encouraging boys and girls to control their weight. Identifying correlates and underlying processes of maternal encouragement can inform preventive measures targeting weight and eating related problems in children.

Parental behaviour; Mothers; Children; Overweight