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Background: Childhood obesity is a significant global public health problem due to increasing rates worldwide. Growing evidence suggests that nonresponsive parental feeding styles and practices are important influences on children’s eating behaviors and weight status, especially during early childhood. Therefore, understanding parental factors that may influence nonresponsive parental feeding styles and practices is significant for the development of interventions to prevent childhood obesity.

Objective: The objectives of this systematic review were to (1) identify and review existing research examining the associations between maternal depressive symptoms and use of nonresponsive feeding styles and practices among mothers of young children (2-8 years of age), (2) highlight the limitations of reviewed studies, and (3) generate suggestions for future research.

Methods: Using the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis Protocols) guidelines, six electronic academic databases were searched for peer-reviewed, full-text papers published in English between January 2000 and June 2016. Only studies with mothers 18+ years old of normally developing children between 2 and 8 years of age were included. Of the 297 citations identified, 35 full-text papers were retrieved and 8 were reviewed.

Results: The reviewed studies provided mixed evidence for associations between maternal depressive symptoms and nonresponsive feeding styles and practices. Two out of three studies reported positive associations with nonresponsive feeding styles, in that mothers with elevated depressive symptoms were more likely than mothers without those symptoms to exhibit uninvolved and permissive or indulgent feeding styles. Furthermore, results of reviewed studies provide good evidence for association between maternal depressive symptoms and instrumental feeding (3 of 3 reviewed studies) and nonresponsive family mealtime practices (3/3), but mixed evidence for pressuring children to eat (3/6) and emotional feeding (1/3). In addition, evidence for the association between maternal depressive symptoms and restricting child food intake was mixed: one study (1/6) found a positive association; two studies (2/6) found a negative association; whereas one study (1/6) found no association.

Conclusions: This review indicates that the results of studies examining the associations between maternal depressive symptoms and parental feeding styles and practices are mixed. Limitations of studies included in this review should be noted: (1) the use of a diverse set of self-report questionnaires to assess parental feeding practices is problematic due to potential misclassification and makes it difficult to compare these outcomes across studies, thus caution must be taken in drawing conclusions; and (2) the majority of included studies (6/8) were cross-sectional. There is a need for additional longitudinal studies to disentangle the influence of depression on parental feeding styles and practices. Nevertheless, given that depressive symptoms and feeding styles and practices are potentially modifiable, it is important to understand their relationship to inform obesity prevention interventions and programs.

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Mary L. Greaney has a dual appointment with the Department of Health Studies and the Department of Kinesiology.