Australian Study Confirms Great Importance of Parents

Wollongong City Library, Belmore Basin

The importance of parents can never be overestimated, especially when it comes to preventing childhood obesity. For the Sydney Morning Herald, Isabel Hayes reported on a study completed by Australia’s University of Wollongong and University of Newcastle.

The researchers wanted to know what works best: getting kids to exercise or educating parents about healthful eating habits. And they wanted a more meaningful time period than is usually involved in such studies.

The abstract of the report in the journal Pediatrics begins,

Outcomes of childhood obesity interventions are rarely reported beyond 1 year.

The “Hunter Illawarra Kids Challenge Using Parent Support” (HIKCUPS) study was a 24-month effort, involving 165 children in primary school. Parents were involved too, all of whom recognized that their child’s overweight condition was a problem.

The families were divided into three groups as follows:

Group 1: Nutrition training for parents
Group 2: Physical training for kids
Group 3: Both

Hayes says the researchers were surprised by the results, which indicated that all three groups showed improvement, but the clear winner was the group where only the parents got the attention, in the form of coaching about dietary sanity. Newcastle’s Professor Clare Collins described the conclusion this way:

If you have got your child being more physically active, that is wonderful. But at the end of the day, the most powerful result came from the parents saying, ‘Right, that’s it, I’m changing the food environment.’… All three arms of the research had positive results, but the group that stood out as being the slimmest, relatively, after two years was the parent-only group.

Why would that be? The researchers theorized that maybe the parents in Group 1 worked harder, knowing that their kids were not doing any extra physical activity, so it was pretty much up to them. That certainly would be a question for further study. Hayes says,

The parents’ nutrition program included setting family food goals, monitoring food intake, selecting lower-fat food versions and introducing healthy snacks.

All these things need to be a regular part of life, and parents need to be responsible for them. As the report says,

The greatest effects were achieved through inclusion of a parent-centered diet program, indicating the importance of targeting parents within treatment and the possibility of targeting them exclusively in treating obese prepubertal children.

Oh great, we’re responsible for our kids’ behavior as social beings, and for their grades, and their health, and every other thing about them, and now we’re supposed to be responsible for their obesity too? It’s a lot, and now this. It’s no wonder that folk wisdom says parenting is the hardest job in the world.

The upside is, to grasp the implications of childhood obesity is to take the first step toward alleviating or even eliminating many other problems. Unpleasant and expensive consequences can be avoided by dealing with the food issues early on.

Case in point: One of the easiest things to demonstrate empirically, about children, is that an overdose of sugar can turn them into raving maniacs. If you hand out sweets to keep a kid quiet on the way to the grocery store, and once inside the supermarket the kid pitches a fit from being frustrated over your refusal to buy some item, there’s no surprise there. The sugar rush has a major connection with children’s behavior as social beings. Eliminate that, and you eliminate some potential problems.

In the same way, it’s possible to avoid consequences that wait down the road for obese kids, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, weak bones, liver disease, psoriasis, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, or any of the other medical conditions that have been linked with childhood obesity. An ounce of prevention, folk wisdom also says, is worth a pound of cure.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents key to ending childhood obesity,”, 03/29/11
Source: “Parent Diet Modification, Child Activity, or Both in Obese Children: An RCT,” Pediatrics, 03/28/11
Image by wollongong2u, used under its Creative Commons license.

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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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