Parents Are Key in the Fight Against Obesity

Parents play an important role in the fight against obesity. They shape their children’s behavior by direct influence, predisposing psychological variables or by controlling the child’s environment. In the fight against obesity, it is key that parents are involved.

Obesity rates have tripled in the past few decades and childhood obesity is global epidemic. In our practice, we see the effects the epidemic is having on children living in the city’s poorest neighborhoods like like Brownsville, East Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Two out of every three children are overweight here, nearly three times the national average. The higher rates are caused by a combination of genetics and an environment where too many calories are consumed, children do not have enough opportunities to exercise and sedentary behavior is commonplace.

Childhood obesity is a serious disease with a large number of negative health outcomes. Obese children have a significantly increased risk of becoming obese adults, developing type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and certain types of cancer.   Overweight children have also been found to have higher rates of absenteeism and poor school performance primarily because of weight bias.  Hitting poorest communities the hardest, children have few places to play and parents have few places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fighting the disease in poor communities is not easy, but parental involvement is crucial. “Parenting” is a term commonly used to explain how a parent influences a child’s behaviors and development.  There are four categories of parenting styles, authoritarian (high demandingness/low responsiveness), authoritative (high demandingness/high responsiveness), indulgent (low demandingness/high responsiveness) and uninvolved (low demandingness/low responsiveness). Authoritarian feeding styles are associated with higher levels of general parental control and authoritarian feeding practices.  On the other hand, authoritative feeding styles are associated with higher levels of general parental responsiveness.

From childhood to adolescence, health-related behavior is increasingly influenced by peers, however, the parent’s role and influence does not necessarily decrease.  The parents’ role may change to become more supervisory and advising, and parental knowledge, discipline, and support can influence the development of certain behaviors.  Parenting style, family functioning and the home environment are all key factors in the treatment of childhood obesity and it is important to further develop family-based treatment programs for obese children in our community. For a complete review, please refer to this article.