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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Fighting Obesity: Healthy Eating

It’s no secret that obesity in America is on the rise.  Over the past 40 years, obesity rates in children have more than tripled.  Parents can help their children learn to live a healthy lifestyle and fight obesity from a very early age.  Following are a few tips that parents can use to help children develop healthy eating habits.

First, remove temptation for your children.  Stock up on healthy and nutritious snacks, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  Keep these foods in easily accessible locations that are convenient for your children.  Put snacks like cookies in less accessible locations and save them for special occasions.

Second, plan regular meals and snacks.  Missing meals can lead to on-the-go snacking and unhealthy food choices.  With regular meals and snacks, you can teach healthy eating habits by providing nutritious choices.

Third, involve your children in meal planning.  Try giving your child two or three healthy options for supper (chicken and rice or meatloaf and carrots), then involve them in the preparation process in an age appropriate manner.  For example, you can ask younger children to help you measure or stir tge food.  Children are more likely to eat healthy foods when they feel it’s their own choice, and they get a sense of accomplishment by helping you prepare the meal.

Finally, be conscious of portion size.  Rather than letting everyone prepare their own dishes, try preparing your family’s meals for them by dividing up the food into age appropriate portion.  This will help ensure that your children eat from each of the different food groups, and it will also help them to resist overeating.

What are some other ways you encourage your family members to eat healthy?

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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