Parents 'play pivotal role in preventing childhood obesity'

28 June 2016

The important role parents play in preventing their children from developing unhealthy habits and becoming obese has been outlined by a new study from Canada.

Carried out by the University of Guelph, the research offered evidence that young adults who grow up in stable families with high-quality parental relationships are more likely to have a healthy diet, stay physically active and maintain functional sleeping patterns, as well as being less likely to be obese.

The team looked at data from more than 3,700 female and over 2,600 male subjects between the ages of 14 and 24 who took part in the Growing Up Today Study 2 in 2011, with the aim of determining how their interactions with their parents affected their health.

Results published in the Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity showed that 80 per cent said they had a highly functional family, defined by how well the family managed daily routines, as well as how members fulfilled their roles and connected emotionally. Moreover, six out of ten females reported high-quality relationships with their parents, as well as six in ten males.

High family functioning and strong family relationships were both associated with lower odds of eating disorders, more frequent physical activity and more sleep, with females in these families also eating less fast food and being less likely to be overweight or obese.

The findings were indicative of the importance of family behaviours and relationships in safeguarding the health of children from an early age, as a dysfunctional home life can undermine their ability to develop healthy routines in terms of eating, sleep or physical activity, all of which can lead to excess weight gain.

Another key finding of the study was that fathers play a greater role in encouraging healthy behaviours than was previously estimated. It was shown that the quality of their relationship with their feathers had a greater impact on the odds of male children of being overweight or obese than was the case among mothers and daughters.

The team noted that further research is needed to explore the mechanisms by which father-son relationships can affect weight status, as well as to explore the reasons behind any differences between males and females.

Study leader Jess Haines, a professor of family relations and applied nutrition, said: "Much of the research examining the influence of parents has typically examined only the mother's influence, or has combined information across parents.

"Our results underscore the importance of examining the influence fathers have on their children and to develop strategies to help fathers support the development of healthy behaviours among their children."

Obesity is widely accepted to be a growing health problem in the UK. Currently, it is estimated that one in every four adults and one in five children aged ten to 11 is obese, with both of these percentages expected to rise in the coming years; as such, it is now more vital than ever for parents to do what they can to help arrest this trend.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

 


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