Childhood Obesity: What Parents Can Do

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In the struggle to end childhood obesity, one thing parents can do is give themselves a break and not feel bad because they’ve passed along some less-than-optimal heredity. As Psych Central News’ associate news editor Traci Pedersen reported,

Unhealthy behaviors, rather than genes, are fueling childhood obesity, according to a study by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

The lead author of the study, Kim A. Eagle, M.D., stated that the current trend toward childhood obesity can be impacted by kids getting more exercise and by cutting down their screen time. Also, improved nutritional value in school lunches is important.

Others, like Dr. Pretlow, believe that diet and exercise alone do not add up to the whole picture. If you haven’t read his “Ending Childhood Obesity Through Healthy Eating & Exercise?” and “Food Addiction and Childhood Obesity: Now What Do We Do?,” they are highly recommended!

In the Michigan study of 1,003 sixth-graders, the researchers found that the obese kids were not the only ones with bad habits. Pedersen says,

Overall, over 30 percent of the participants had consumed regular soda the previous day, and fewer than half could remember eating two portions of fruits and vegetables within the past 24 hours. Only one-third of participants reported exercising for 30 minutes for five days during the previous week.

So, while parents may be off the hook on the genetic side of things, they’re still responsible for setting a good example and enforcing rules when it comes to junk food, TV and video games, and other perils of everyday life. The unfortunate fact is, parents (or those acting in loco parentis) are not only the main, but the only source of influence on the eating habits of a young child.

Paula Bernstein suggests the same thing, when considering a study whose results were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, May 2010. The bottom line here is, when parents have a healthy attitude toward food and a healthy attitude about their own bodies, children tend to follow their lead and perhaps even avoid obesity.

Bernstein says,

After analyzing surveys from 103 overweight adolescents and their parents — mostly mothers — researchers found that psychological factors like parents’ depression, self-esteem, body satisfaction and emphasis on thinness influenced their teenage children (I think it’s safe to conclude that younger kids are influenced as well).

It is always a good idea to keep the household stress and combativeness levels down, because stressed children will overeat. One of the tragedies of the childhood obesity epidemic is the tendency for the fat kid to become the “designated patient,” when in reality the whole family needs help.

Bernstein’s specific suggestions include: no skipping meals, no crash diets or fad diets, no slimming pills, no complaining about your appearance. It’s all about indirect communication. Parents lead best by example.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bad Habits, Not Genetics, Fuel Childhood Obesity,” Psych Central News, 02/02/11
Source: “Parents Can Influence Overweight Teens,” Strollerderby, 04/28/10
Image by colros (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose), used under its Creative Commons license.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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