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Does Your Parenting Style Contribute to Your Child’s Obesity?

It is commonly known that obesity is a huge struggle for many Americans today.  With our busy lifestyle, reliance on technology and things of convenience, healthy choices and activity tend to take a backseat.  However, in recent years it has become painfully obvious that struggles with being overweight and obese not only affect adult Americans, but are also plaguing our children.  There have been some efforts to combat this in recent years.  For example, in 2010 the House of Representatives passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  This was done in collaboration with the already passed Child Nutrition Act.  These policies address child obesity issues by attempting to provide more nutritious meal options and nutrition education within the school system.

You may ask yourself, “How do I know if my child is overweight or obese?”  Typically BMI, or Body Mass Index is used as a short hand to determine if a child is overweight.  This takes into consideration the gender, height, age and weight of the child and children have their own BMI scale separate from those specified for adults.  If you are unsure if your child is obese, consult with your family physician.

So what exactly can we contribute child and adolescent obesity to?  Most commonly children learn behaviors through observing their parents.  However, a recent study conducted by the American Heart Association notes that specific parenting styles may be more contributing factors to child and adolescent obesity.  In the study, there were 4 specific styles noted to include:

  1. Authoritative – where parents are thought to be demanding yet also responsive to the emotional needs of the child.
  2. Authoritarian – parents are demanding, but are not responsive to emotional needs
  3. Permissive –  Responsive, but not demanding
  4. Negligent – parents are neither demanding, nor responsive.

According to the study, the authoritarian and negligent parenting styles are thought to be the most detrimental in terms of discouraging communication and emphasizing the cause or situation of obesity.  More specifically, the study found a direct correlation between the authoritarian parenting style and an overweight BMI.  This was regardless of the economic status of the family, which is important to note since poverty is often a contributing factor to obesity due to lack of resources and healthy meal choice options.

This really speaks to the needs of children to have a demonstrated balance of limits as well as warmth and emotional support from their parents.  Many parents are asking, “How can I ensure a healthy balance in my parenting style?”  It begins with becoming self-aware and purposeful in what to implement in relating to your children.

Tips for Healthy kids and families:

  1. Open Communication – Start with an open dialogue.  This can be a great starting point with both the parents and children expressing their concerns or desires for more healthy lifestyle
  2. Show Affirmation/Affection – As noted by the study, this is an absolute need for children.  Don’t skimp out on expressing your love and affection for them.  Abiding by the limits you set is much easier for children if they are routinely reminded of your unconditional affection and support of them.
  3. Let Your Child Play a Role in Decision Making- This is a great opportunity to allow your child to take on ownership of their healthy choices and allots for a sense of autonomy and independence in the process.
  4. Lead by Example – Certainly living by the standard, ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is never a good example for children to live by and respect.  As the leader in your household, the standard falls to you to set and encourage children to live by.  Practical ways this is done is by choosing healthy family activities as well as food choices.  Modeling desired behavior is a strong tool of parenting and one of the easiest for children to imitate.
  5. Set Limits – This not only could be done in food choices, but also in how much time is spent watching television and the using other electronic devices.  Additionally, setting limits on the family’s busy schedule can be helpful.
  6. Have Reasonable Expectations – When placing expectations on children, take into consideration the age of the child.  When implementing a healthier family lifestyle, start slowly and steadily progress.  Implementing too much too fast could set you and your children up for failure.

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