WEDNESDAY, Nov. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who set firm
rules about behaviors like TV viewing, dinner time and physical
activity tend to have children of healthier weights, a new
Australian study finds.
"Children of parents who set consistent rules have a slightly lower body-mass index [BMI]; they're thinner," said study author Pauline Jansen.
Both mothers and fathers who enforced clear guidelines had a
similar effect on their children's weight -- regardless of their
own weight -- found Jansen, an honorary off-campus fellow at the
Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne.
The study involved more than 4,000 children and their parents
who participated in a long-term study of Australian children.
Starting in 2004 when the children were 4 or 5 years old,
parents reported their offspring's height and weight and described
their parenting styles four different times every two years.
Jansen found an association between consistent parenting and
healthy weights in children, not a cause-and-effect.
And while the effects were not great, they were only slightly
less than the effects of other factors often cited as contributing
to a child's healthy weight, such as breast-feeding, said Jansen,
now a researcher at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.
This suggests programs aimed at helping get children to a
healthy weight should include talk about parenting styles, she
Childhood obesity is a troubling public health problem. In the
United States, 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
raising the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint
problems, diabetes and other conditions.
The new study is published online Nov. 25 and in the December
print issue of the journal
What exactly is parental consistency? For the study, Jansen
said, ''the parenting consistency we assessed did not refer to
lifestyle habits, but was more global. It reflects the degree to
which parents set and ensure compliance with age-appropriate
instructions, rules and expectations. We showed that this global
consistency benefits child BMI."
BMI is a measurement of body fat that takes height and weight
Why would parenting style affect children's weight? Jansen
didn't look at that specifically. However, she speculated that
those who are consistent in parenting ''may be more likely to set
clear expectations around healthy behaviors -- for example rules
regarding television viewing, screen time and physical activity,
bedtime routines and the timing and type of foods consumed."
One expert said the finding is a good starting point.
The study ''is a good first start to see the influence that both
parents have" in affecting a child's weight, said Dr. Gloria
Riefkohl, a pediatrician at Miami Children's Hospital. In future
research, she said, "we need to take a look at the influence of
expanded families," she said, such as the effect of grandparents.
Researchers should also look at nontraditional families.
Parents can help encourage healthy weights in their children in
a number of ways, she said. "Choose family goals, such as
exercising every day and eating fruits and vegetables," she said.
"Keep track of who meets their goals, and praise those who do. And
when the whole family achieves the goals, do something fun together
-- going to the zoo, park or aquarium, and so on."
Parents should also focus on establishing healthy eating habits
early, Riefkohl said: "What we eat is a learned process."
To learn more about childhood weight, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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