The Chain of Inheritance

The previous Childhood Obesity News post addressed the theory advanced by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, that there are three basic parenting styles, which she identified as authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. We also mentioned Julie Lythcott-Haims, an educator who is quoted as saying, “Authoritarian types are mean, heartless, and cruel, and just have a bunch of rules.”

Rules in themselves are not bad, and in fact the best kind of parent, the authoritative kind, establishes rules. The difference is, the authoritarian has only rules and nothing but rules. The authoritarian parent (or boss, teacher, public official, etc.) basks in the certainty of rightness, so that can be a problem when undertaking any kind of reform.

Even when authoritarian parents can be convinced to seek help from counseling or a parenting course, they are likely to shop around for a program that will reinforce their ingrained proclivities. A University of Illinois research team, curious about the excessive consumption of junk food, undertook a study that focused on 497 parents (or primary caregivers) of two-year-olds.

Vanishree Bhatt reported,

The subjects were asked questions related to the nature of their relationship with the children and how they dealt with the children’s negative emotions. They were also asked to rate themselves on a scale that measured depression and anxiety.

Needless to say, any study that relies on self-reporting starts out with a serious liability. First, there must be the assumption of a certain amount of self-awareness on the part of the subject. Some would call that a big ask.

The authors speak of insecure parents, or parents with insecure attachment. These people are “more likely to be distressed by their children’s negative emotions when punished.” What parents should be, is emotionally available, and able to teach kids how to handle such negative emotions as disappointment, anger, and so on.

The obstacle is easily seen. Most adults can’t handle their own negative emotions. How are they supposed to teach the younger generation to cope with stress by mobilizing healthy responses, rather than diving into the vicious cycle of comfort eating, obesity, depression, and more comfort eating?

Can adults really be blamed? Some of us have put in the work, trying to parent within the golden mean. Most of us grew up with abysmally poor examples, and we just don’t know how to act. And people, including experts, give conflicting advice. This idea is a useful one: When trying to turn the family on to something new it helps to first have a nice hard think about what you are really trying to do, and whether there might be a better way to do it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A former Stanford dean explains the difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting,”, 10/27/16
Source: “4 Parenting Styles — Characteristics And Effects [Infographic],, undated
Source: “Poor Parenting Linked to Childhood Obesity: Study,”, 02/11/14
Photo credit: Beesnest McClain on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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