Childhood Obesity — Ease Up on the Reins

Portrait of King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England

Last time, Childhood Obesity News remarked on the proposal made by UK health groups to put the struggle against childhood obesity on something of a military footing. There is always a question of how much strong-arming the population will endure, even for the sake of a good cause.

The social environment is of course made up of more than the official rulings handed down by a government. Narrowing the focus back to the personal level, it appears that parents can be too rigid, which turns out to be counterproductive.

For Medical News Today, Marie Ellis wrote about the American Heart Association’s concern over the fact that more than one-third of American children are overweight or obese. At the group’s 2014 Scientific Sessions meeting, a study was presented whose subjects were more than 37,000 Canadian children. The researchers kept track of these kids from birth up to age 11.

They defined four different parenting styles. The “permissive” kind features responsive but undemanding parents. A permissive regime can be beneficial in some ways, but also has the potential to backfire. “Negligent” is another potentially harmful category, although some kids thrive with minimalist parents who are neither demanding nor responsive. Negligent parents may not give a darn what you do, but the downside is, they don’t give a darn what you do.

The most desirable style is “authoritative,” which means the parents are demanding but at the same time responsive to a child’s issues and emotional affect. “Authoritarian” parents are also demanding but without any softness to compensate for it. Ellis says:

Results showed that kids whose parents were authoritarian had a 30% higher likelihood of being obese in kids between 2 and 5 years old, while kids between 6 and 11 years old had a 37% higher chance.

[K]ids whose parents are strict but not emotionally receptive are more likely to be obese, compared with kids whose parents set boundaries but are affectionate.

The object of this study was to get some pointers about how to construct better interventions. While professionals are doing that, McGill University postdoctoral fellow and study author Lisa Kakinami suggests that parents should at least be aware of their parenting style and aim for a nice balance of limits and affection. For Today.com, Linda Carroll reported on the same meeting and also quoted Kakinami:

When we’re born, we come equipped with our own self regulation. But authoritarian parents override that. They take away the child’s own ability to regulate themselves.

Carroll also quotes several other experts who make similar points about how too much control can deny a child the ability to hear her or his own inner voice. Kids react better to rules that come with explanations attached. An extreme rule, like absolutely no sugar, will probably have dire results in the form of sneaking and rebellion. There is even the suggestion that kids who are taught to bow before authoritarian parental pressure will give in more easily to peer pressure.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids of authoritarian parents ‘more likely to be obese’,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 03/20/14
Source: “Hug more, scold less: Strict parenting linked to child obesity,” Today.com, 03/19/14
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