Positive Parenting May Prevent Obesity
An innovative new study links positive parenting during early childhood to significantly lower rates of obesity.
In a new study published by the journal Pediatrics, experts have found an interesting link between parenting and obesity rates. Researchers found that programs that aimed to support parents and solve or prevent behavioral problems in children had the unintended side effect of reducing the children's obesity rates later in life.
Researchers from the NYU Child Study Center analyzed long-term follow-up studies of children who had participated in the child-parent support programs "ParentCorps" or "Incredible Years." The programs targeted high-risk children from low-income minority families and focused on preventing behavioral problems that can put children at a significant disadvantage when entering school.
For example, children who entered school with behavioral problems are at higher risk for academic underachievement, school dropout, antisocial behavior, delinquency, and health problems such as obesity. However, the family intervention programs themselves did not address nutrition, weight, or exercise.
Rather, the child-parent support programs aimed to reduce harsh and ineffective parenting methods, encourage the use of praise, and help parents to be more responsive and attentive to their children. Parents who were involved in the programs spent more time reading and playing with their children, and tended to replace physical punishment with other disciplinary strategies such as time outs.
Follow-up studies of the intervention programs followed the children 3 to 5 years later, and found that children who were part of the family support programs had significantly lower rates of obesity. Among children with early behavioral problems who were not part of the program, more than half of the children were obese by the second grade. Among children with early behavioral problems who were part of the parenting programs, the obesity rate was only 24%. One follow-up study also found that children who were involved in the family programs had lower blood pressure and consumed fewer carbohydrates.
The researchers concluded that helping parents to use more effective parenting strategies, and working to prevent behavioral problems in young children, could reduce obesity rates among at-risk children as well as improve their "health behaviors."
The study is certainly a good reminder that a child's health is closely related to many factors, many of which may not at first glance have a direct impact on nutrition. Reducing behavioral problems by focusing on positive parenting, and hopefully addressing the root causes of the behavioral problems, have a significant positive impact on a child's physical health.