Parents who set firm rules
about behaviours like TV viewing, dinner time and physical activity tend to
have children of healthier weights, a new Australian study finds.
"Children of parents
who set consistent rules have a slightly lower body-mass index [BMI]; they're
thinner," said study author Pauline Jansen.
Both mothers and fathers
who enforced clear guidelines had a similar effect on their children's weight regardless
of their own weight found Jansen, an honorary off-campus fellow at the Murdoch
Children's Research Institute in Melbourne.
The study involved more
than 4 000 children and their parents who participated in a long-term study of
Starting in 2004 when the
children were 4 or 5 years old, parents reported their offspring's height and
weight and described their parenting styles four different times every two
Jansen found an association
between consistent parenting and healthy weights in children, not a
And while the effects were
not great, they were only slightly less than the effects of other factors often
cited as contributing to a child's healthy weight, such as breastfeeding, said
Jansen, now a researcher at Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands.
This suggests programmes
aimed at helping get children to a healthy weight should include talk about
parenting styles, she said.
Childhood obesity is a
troubling public health problem. In the United States, 17% of children aged 2
to 19 are obese, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and
Prevention, raising the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint
problems, diabetes and other conditions.
The new study is published in the journal Paediatrics.
Early healthy habits
What exactly is parental
consistency? For the study, Jansen said, ''the parenting consistency we
assessed did not refer to lifestyle habits, but was more global. It reflects
the degree to which parents set and ensure compliance with age-appropriate
instructions, rules and expectations. We showed that this global consistency
benefits child BMI."
BMI is a measurement of
body fat that takes height and weight into account.
Why would parenting style
affect children's weight? Jansen didn't look at that specifically. However, she
speculated that those who are consistent in parenting ''may be more likely to
set clear expectations around healthy behaviours, for example rules regarding
television viewing, screen time and physical activity, bedtime routines and the
timing and type of foods consumed."
One expert said the finding
is a good starting point.
Choosing family goals
The study ''is a good first
start to see the influence that both parents have" in affecting a child's
weight, said Dr Gloria Riefkohl, a paediatrician at Miami Children's Hospital.
In future research, she said, "we need to take a look at the influence of
expanded families," she said, such as the effect of grandparents.
Researchers should also look at non-traditional families.
Parents can help encourage
healthy weights in their children in a number of ways, she said. "Choose
family goals, such as exercising every day and eating fruits and
vegetables," she said. "Keep track of who meets their goals, and
praise those who do. And when the whole family achieves the goals, do something
fun together going to the zoo, park or aquarium, and so on."
Parents should also focus
on establishing healthy eating habits early, Riefkohl said: "What we eat
is a learned process."
To learn more about
childhood weight, visit the US Centres
for Disease Control and Prevention.