Are Parenting Styles Linked to Overweight Adolescents?

The prevalence of obesity among our nation’s youth has drawn attention from medical experts. This spurred the introduction of legislation and inspired Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program. For parents who wrestle with their own child’s weight problem, however, the issue is personal, complex, and challenging. Now research has found a connection between BMI (body mass index) and a parent’s approach to diet and exercise.

The idea of moderation in all things applies to parenting as well, at least according to the new studies. Either extreme – being overly indulgent or excessively strict — may lead adolescents to become overweight. Making sure children always “clean their plates”, for example, regardless of whether they’re full or not, may encourage a pattern of overeating. Denying all sweets may make kids even more interested in consuming them. On the other hand, letting kids eat whatever and whenever they want without any focus on portion control or a balanced diet can also lead to obesity.

Taking an authoritative parenting approach without being too strict seems to yield the best results. In the research context, “authoritative” parenting referred to a style of parenting in which the child perceived that the parent cares for them and was approachable to discuss problems openly, but still sets reasonable limits.  Conversely, authoritarian mothers were more likely to have overweight sons compared to mothers with authoritative or even neglectful parenting styles.  A strict  mother with a neglectful father was associated with the highest BMI.

Authoritative parenting in practice might include both parents taking an active, positive interest in their child’s relationship with food.  Involving children in shopping for and preparing food is one method. Allow for the occasional treat to avoid a constant power struggle around meals, and be sure to explain why treats are not healthy to eat all the time.  Make  time for family meals. Also, set an example: the study proved that children whose parents ate healthy and exercised regularly had a lower BMI.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity among children 12 to 19 years old more than tripled from 5.0% in 1980 to 18.1% in 2008. It’s a costly epidemic, both for kids who may face a lifetime of weight-related complications and for our healthcare system. America spends $150 billion each year to treat conditions linked to obesity such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And in a startling reversal of historical trends, the life expectancy for today’s children may actually be shorter than their parents.

You can access additional information through the USDA, and be sure to consult your physician for personalized guidance.

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