An exploratory study on the intergenerational transmission of obesity and dieting proneness

  • Elizabeth A. ClaydonEmail author
  • Keith J. Zullig
  • Christa L. Lilly
  • Stephanie C. Zerwas
  • Danielle M. Davidov
  • Lesley Cottrell
  • Marney A. White
Original Article



There is a paucity of research exploring individuals’ memories of parental dieting behavior, engagement in “fat talk”, or criticism of weight or eating behavior in childhood. This exploratory study utilized a community sample to further characterize the retrospective report of parenting dieting behavior.


A total of 507 participants (78.1% females; 20.7% males; and 1.2% transgender) were recruited to participate in an online, self-administered survey.


Forty percent (216) of participants reported maternal dieting in their family of origin and 34% (182) reported maternal fat talk, 24% (120) reported paternal dieting, and 11% recalled paternal ‘fat talk’ (58). Subgroup analyses suggest that both male and female participants had greater odds of remembering maternal rather than paternal weight or shape criticism and encouragement to diet (OR = 58.1; and OR = 3.12; p < 0.0001 for male and female participants, respectively). Retrospective report of indirect parental behaviors (e.g. parental dieting) also appears to be associated with direct parental behaviors (e.g. encouraging children to diet). Additionally, participants who recalled maternal encouragement to diet reported a significantly higher adult BMI (β = 1.31, SE = 0.32, p < 0.0001).


Results provide preliminary evidence that a sizeable percentage of both adult male and female participants recalled that their parents engaged in fat talk and dieting. In addition, participants recalled parental criticism of their own weight or eating behaviors, which was associated with recall of parental dieting and fat talk.

Level of evidence

Level V, Descriptive Study.


Dieting behaviors Fat talk Family fat talk Obesity Intergenerational transmission 



This research was supported, in part, by Grant #1R49CE002109 from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, to the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent official views of the CDC.


This research was supported, in part, by Grant #1R49CE002109 from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, to the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent official views of the CDC.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

S.C. Zerwas has consulted with Coleman Research. No other authors have a conflict of interest to declare.

Human and animal rights statement

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

40519_2018_478_MOESM1_ESM.docx (81 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 81 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Behavioral SciencesWest Virginia University School of Public HealthMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiostatisticsWest Virginia University School of Public HealthMorgantownUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUNC School of MedicineChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of Emergency MedicineWest Virginia University School of MedicineMorgantownUSA
  5. 5.Department of PediatricsWest Virginia University School of MedicineMorgantownUSA
  6. 6.Department of Social and Behavioral SciencesYale School of Public HealthNew HavenUSA

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