Positive Parenting and Your Child’s Weight

Last month’s Science of Parenting Podcast highlighted childhood obesity, and this month it focused on Parenting Styles.  Although these may seem like two very different matters, there is actually a lot of research linking the two topics.  A recent study followed 2,516 adolescents for five years to explore how parenting styles affected children’s weight.

First, researchers labeled parenting styles of both moms and dads by looking at responsiveness (level of love, affection, and warmth) and demandingness (level of strictness and expectation).  Historically, when parents have high expectations and boundaries for their children (high demandingness), but also show their children how much they love and care about them (high responsiveness), the children have the most positive outcomes.

Second, researchers calculated the children’s Body Mass Index (BMI), a number used to determine if a person is underweight, a healthy weight, or overweight.  Finally, they asked the children what types of food they typically eat.  The results are summarized below.

  • When moms showed high demandingness and high responsiveness, it led to sons who had healthier BMI scores than the sons of moms who showed high demandingness and low responsiveness.
  • When moms showed high demandingness and high responsiveness, it led to daughters who had healthier BMI scores than the daughters of moms who showed low demandingness and low responsiveness.
  • When dads showed high responsiveness (regardless of their level of demandingness), it led to daughters who ate more fruits and vegetables than the daughters of dads who showed low responsiveness.

To summarize, moms who set high expectations in a structured environment, but also show children a lot of care and love, create environments that promote healthy BMIs for both sons and daughters.  Also, when daughters feel a lot of warmth and love from their fathers, they are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables.

What are some demands you set for your children to help develop healthy eating habits?  In what ways might your love and affection also help your children develop healthy eating habits?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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