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Moms and dads, put down that bowl of puréed squash. Junior's better off feeding himself.

Babies who are allowed to feed themselves may be less likely to become obese children, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open, from the British Medical Journal. Those who feed themselves as they're introduced to solid foods tend to develop healthier food preferences and be an appropriate weight, compared with their counterparts who are spoon-fed, the study found.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham surveyed the parents of 155 children, ages 20 months to more than six years, about whether their children fed themselves while weaning, about their food preferences and whether they are picky eaters. Parents were also asked for their children's height and weight for body mass index calculations.

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The researchers found picky eaters were no more prevalent among the children who had fed themselves than those who were spoon-fed. But children weaned using the "baby-led" method tended to prefer carbohydrates, such as pasta, breads and rice, while those who had been spoon-fed preferred sweet foods, like cookies, chocolates and cakes.

Ellen Townsend, associate professor of psychology and one of the authors of the study, said carbohydrates, may be more attractive to children who fed themselves because such foods tend to be easy to hold and to chew. Furthermore, they may be more accustomed to a range of healthy, nutritious foods that are intact, instead of masked as purées, which could influence their preferences.

Although the researchers found the majority of children in both groups had a healthy, normal body mass index, a small number of children in the baby-led group were underweight. By contrast, however, Dr. Townsend said a greater number of children in the spoon-fed group were overweight, which could be linked to parents overestimating how much to feed their infants.

"In baby-led weaning, you're essentially handing over control of the feeding process to your child. You're letting them decide when they're full," she says, whereas with spoon-feeding, "perhaps there's a temptation to give the child one or two more spoons more than they actually want."

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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