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Are parents to blame for childhood obesity?

Are parents to blame for childhood obesity?

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A couple of days ago, a family asked me for advice about their child, a 10-year-old who is overweight. They were running out of ideas what to do about it. Their most pressing concern was their own responsibility about the situation. I had to answer whether I thought these parents are to blame for childhood obesity, a question that is not as straightforward as most might think.

The increasing number of obese children represents a serious health problem, which also has far-ranging consequences on social relationships for children. Childhood and adolescence obesity is growing. In the United States obesity rates increased from 14.5 percent in 1999 to 17.3 percent in 2011. Europe is following suit, and if the current trend continues childhood obesity will affect 90 percent of children by 2050 in Britain. That’s a lot of fish and chips.

meme_chubbyThe fact of the matter is that parents are mostly to blame for childhood obesity, but it’s more complicated than just what parents feed kids. Genetics is partly to blame, society is partly to blame, and the dynamics of a child’s parents interacting between each other also plays a role.

How to know your child is fat
According to Pediatrician Roberta Anding, a registered dietition at Texas Children’s Hospital and an editor for The Family Guide to Fight Fat, the best way to know your child’s getting fat is not by how round his arms and face get or that he’s too big for his age compared to the other kids on the block. Instead, she says, follow the growth chart. “If the child’s weight is increasing at a faster rate than his height, that’s a red flag,” Anding says.

Being fat is often associated with genetic factors, but most evidence points to the fact this excuse only works in a minority of cases. A study called “Genetics of Obesity” points to the real cause of obesity, and it’s a great resource for answering the question Are parents to blame for childhood obesity?:

The increased availability of palatable, energy dense foods and the reduced requirement for physical exertion during working and domestic life contributes to a state of positive energy balance. – Genetics of Obesity

Don’t blame society
It is not easy to lead a healthy lifestyle with the availability of high calorie food and drinks. Children lack the judgment to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods, and their parents should provide them advice and guidance. Although schools and other stakeholders also must provide opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity with great effect, the role of parents cannot be neglected.

Good choices, good parents
Personal choices are indeed the responsibility of parents. A parent, who eats healthy foods and drinks healthy drinks and is physically active, can expect that his or her children will follow suit. However, if the lifestyle of the parent is sedentary, her food and drink choices are questionable, she should not wonder if her children imitate her. Parents affect their children with their own lifestyle, activity level and food choices. Children aged 5 or older should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity or exercise daily, activity that helps them to maintain a healthy weight and to avoid problems associated with being obese or overweight. Parents often fail to encourage an active lifestyle for their children by not acting as role models.Do parents make their kids fat?

Blame the moms
An interesting and noteworthy observation is that mothers have a more significant influence on the food choice of their children while fathers are more likely to be able to influence their activity levels. That’s because mothers are usually the directors of operations in the household, and the ones who decide what and when to eat. Fathers are often the ones who do more with providing play and fun for their children. It is a great opportunity to share responsibilities among the parents, mothers choosing healthy foods for the family and fathers caring for their activity levels. But these roles can and should be reversed to ensure both parents are understanding the struggles and causes on the other side.

Don’t blame the bullies
Despite the increase in awareness about bullying and other prejudicial activity, the fact remains that fat kids catch more flack for being fat. Kids do not like those who are fat. Being overweight is associated with a lack of self-control and a weak will. And being fat represents a social problem. This approach is wrong, of course, but children are the arbiters in the battle for acceptance, and parents can do only so much to help kids who are fat be accepted by others.

So should we be blaming parents for our modern scourge that is too much food, too little exercise and too much modernity? Obesity is not that simple because culture, food, and the choices made by both parents and children must be considered. It’s impossible to disregard a contemporary lifestyle, a lifestyle that is sedentary, involves lots of screen time and is characterized by low levels of physical activity.

That family that came to visit me was not happy with my response to them. I told them they have a responsibility to fight the excess weight of their son.

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