New research points to a link between parenting styles and the rate of obesity in children. While the reasons aren’t yet clear, a study of 37,000 children found a higher rate of obesity among children whose parents are rigid with the rules and stingy with affection. Some psychologists theorize that it may be caused in part by those parents completely forbidding certain foods, and thereby unintentionally making them even more desirable to their children. Additionally, these children may be compensating for the lack of affection from those parents with food.
What seemed to work better? Parents who engaged their children more in conversations about healthy choices and reasonable limits…and seasoned it all with ample affection.
Children’s health advocates are searching far and wide for the causes of childhood obesity because of skyrocketing statistics. Over the past three decades, the number of obese children has doubled while the number of obese teens has quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The health consequences of these increases are serious: rising numbers of children are being diagnosed with diabetes and other illnesses tied to excessive weight.
The new study, presented recently to a meeting of the American Heart Association, designated two types of parenting styles: authoritarian (generally inflexible with the rules and emotionally unresponsive) and authoritative (more affectionate and willing to discuss rules and the setting of reasonable limits). Children of the more “authoritarian” parents were 30-37% more likely to be overweight, depending on age.
So how can parents take the more promising “authoritative” approach with their children? As it relates to food, suggestions include:
Discuss the “whys” of healthy eating with your children, help them to understand that what they eat has a real affect on them, and explain that your rules regarding food aren’t arbitrary.
Remind your child that your desire to help them be healthy is because of your love for them!
Involve the child in the development of limits and guidelines for eating certain foods, so they feel they some ownership of those limits.
Offer multiple healthy choices and allow the child to make the final selection.