Examining the Intersection of Relational Competence, Feeding Attitudes, and Childhood Obesity

Open Access
DePalma, Natalie Hernandez
Graduate Program:
Counseling Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 18, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Dr Elizabeth Skowron, Dissertation Advisor
  • Elizabeth K Skowron, Committee Chair
  • Susan S Woodhouse, Committee Member
  • Jolynn Carney, Committee Member
  • Sibylle Kranz, Committee Member
  • childhood obesity
  • relational competence
This study explored one dimension of the complex problem of childhood obesity by investigating the relationship between maternal relational characteristics (indexed by differentiation of self, attachment and effortful control), maternal feeding attitudes and children’s propensity toward obesity. The current study investigated whether; (a) maternal differentiation of self, attachment anxiety and avoidance, and effortful control comprised a latent construct of relational competence; (b) mother relational competence accounted for a significant portion of the variance in child BMI; and (c) the relationship between maternal relational competence and child BMI was mediated by maternal feeding attitudes (restriction, pressure to eat and monitoring). Sixty-five women and their preschool-age children participated. Mothers completed self-report measures and all participants were weighed and measured. Children’s BMI scores showed a highly leptokurtic distribution. The first study hypothesis, that maternal Differentiation of Self, Attachment and Effortful Control all comprised one latent factor designated Maternal Relational Competence (MRC) was unsupported by the data. Rather, results indicated that Maternal Relational Competence variables did not load on one factor, as hypothesized, but tapped at least two latent factors. The second hypothesis, that MRC predicts healthier child BMI was also unsupported by the data. Overall, none of the predictor variables were related to child BMI. Given that the correlation between MRC variables and child BMI was non-significant, the hypothesized test of mediation between MRC, feeding attitudes and child BMI was unwarranted, and post-hoc analyses were conducted. Analyses showed that MRC variables did not distinguish between the child BMI weight groups and that maternal relational competence is better represented by two factors. Directions for future research, study limitations, and practice implications are discussed.